The General Conference to take up the Debate on Homosexuality
In a few short days from now, the United Methodist Church will wrestle, once again, with the thorny issue of sexuality. I believe there are reasons why THIS is the presenting issue rather than any number of other things that could (and often do) divide us.
Paul's First Letter to the Corinthian Church is, arguably, the most caustic of all Paul's letters. From beginning to end he chastises and attempts corrections for this rather wayward congregation. It is filled with factions - some following Paul, some Apollos, some Peter. There is an obvious competative and unloving spirit rampant among these believers in Christ.
Paul also goes on to speak about their tolerance of a man living in an unholy sexual arrangement with his step-mother with the seeming approval of the church (I Cor. 5:1-13). He is also deeply concerned about the way in which the church is doing the sacrament of Holy Communion. He warns them about receiving the elements in an unworthy manner. Then, after commending them for their demonstration of spiritual gifts, he firmly, but tenderly, berates them for their misuse of these gift, holding up the need for the gifts to be exercised in love (I Cor. 13). He is even concerned that some are believing heretical doctrinces concerning the resurrection of the dead (I Cor. 15).
But interestingly, only in the case of the sexual immorality in the church does Paul call for what would today be referred to as excommunication. He doesn't suggest they put the unloving people out of the church or those who have misused spiritual gifts, or those who fail to love as they ought, or even those who have misundertandings about the cardinal doctrine of the resurrection. For all of these he has admonitions for correction. But for the man living in unrepentant sexual sin, his strong advice is: "Let him who has done this be removed from among you." (I Cor. 5:2) He concludes his discussion of this man in I Cor. 5:13b with these words: "Purge the evil person from among you." Pretty strong words when directed at an individual in the church!
From that point Paul goes to chapter 6 where he lists a number of sins: sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, thievery, greed, drunkenness, reviling, swindling. He points out that many of the Corinthian Christians were involved in these very sins prior to Christ's deliverance in their lives.
But then, Paul elaborates in an interesting way. He distinquishes between sexual sins and all other sins. "Flee from sexual immorality," he says, for "Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body." (I Cor. 6:18)
Note that Paul sets apart sexual sin verses "every other sin", as if, in his mind, sexual sin is in a different category. And I believe this is why Paul wants the man with "unrepentant" sexual sin removed from the church. He sees this as somehow more destructive to the whole body of believers than all the other sins he addresses in this church.
His theological foundation for his argument is in I Cor. 6:19-20. The BODY is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It has been "bought" with a price. We are not our own to do with our bodies as we wish. We belong to God. Therefore we are to glorify God in our bodies. (verse 20)
Paul goes on to commend marriage with these words, "Because of the tempation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." (I Cor. 7:2). This is certainly heterosexual marriage which Paul is commending (although, he also commends total sexual abstinence, for those who are so gifted as he was with the ability to live chastely without marriage).
So, the church and The United Methodist Church, in particular, as we meet for this historic conference, should not, must not, compromise on sexuality. Our standard has been that of the church for millennia: celibacy in singleness, faithfulness in heterosexual marriage...exactly what the New Testament calls for.
You will also note, if you read Paul's account carefully, his concern is for the sexually immoral man's ultimate salvation. His concern is two-fold, in fact: One-he doesn't want the "acceptance" of this man's sin to be seen as an approval by the church...and thus, as leaven, to spread to others in the church, and TWO-he desires the man's ultimate salvation for he says, "You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." I Cor. 5:5
To Judge or Not to Judge
I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but something was bothering me. I kept seeing posts and hearing people say, "Don't judge me! Jesus said, 'Judge not...'" And indeed, Jesus did say that. "Judge not, that you be not judged." (Matthe w 7:1) But almost never did anyone refer to words that Jesus also said: "Judge not by appearances, but JUDGE right judgments."(John 7:24) Nor do many reference Paul, who is equally inspired by God to say,
"Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you,
are you incompetent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How
much more, then, matters pertaining to this life? (I Corinthians 6:2-3)
So, on the one hand we have Jesus saying, "Judge not" and on the other He says, "Judge right judgments", and Paul telling Christians to judge matters "pertaining to this life" since we will, in the end, judge the world as well as angels.
I think we can get a handle on this seeming-contradiction once we understand WHY a lot of people like to quote Jesus when He said, "Judge NOT", but rarely quote the other passages. The WHY is often hidden under a word that is often added, or at least understood to be added, to Jesus' words in Matthew. While Jesus did say, "Don't judge", often those who quote this add or imply the addition of the word "me". Don't judge ME. Now just the addition of this word radically changes what Jesus meant.
To understand what is bothering me here, look at Paul's words just quoted from I Corinthians 6. He said this immediately after MAKING A JUDGMENT about a man who was living in open sexual immorality in the Corinthian church. (See I Corinthians 5:1-5) Here's what Paul said about this man: "I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing." (v. 3) Now imagine if this man, who was living with his step-mother in an immoral relationship, were on Facebook today. He likely would say somthing like this: "Jesus said, 'Do not judge! has Jesus hired you, Paul, to be a judge for him?" But what the man would actually be meaning is this: "Jesus said, 'Do not judge ME!" And that is exactly what Paul was doing. He was passing judgment on the entire immoral situation.
So, I finally understood what was bothering me. Some people are using Jesus' words as an attempt to avoid being held accountable. If I say, "Don't judge your neighbor" or "don't judge a person's motives", or "don't judge that person who is not even a Christian", that is one thing. But if I say or mean, "Don't judge ME, even though I have decided to live in outright disobedience to Christ's commands", while I profess to be a follower of Jesus...then what I'm really trying to do is to avoid accountability.
There. I have spoken it. Please don't judge me for it. Whoa, I mean, DO judge what I have written. Is this not the case? Should we not hold one another accountable in love?
THOUGHTS ON THE RECENT GLOBAL GATHERING OF THE WESLEYAN COVENANT ASSOCIATION
I just returned from the 3rd Global Gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The gathering was held at the beautiful Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia.
Here are a few of my thoughts. First of all, I was impressed by the size of the crowd. It was reported that there were about 2,000 in attendance and hundreds more who watched the event by simulcast throughout the country. The crowd was a bit more subdued than what we experienced at the New Room conference earlier this year in Nashville, and perhaps a little older as well, but my sense was that the people were a bit apprehensive about the future of the United Methodist Church and were hoping for some direction and hope from the WCA.
The worship, led by Mark Swayze of the Woodlands UMC in Houston, was designed to bring us a sense of God's presence. The combination of a contemporary worship team and a mighty pipe organ was an amazing experience of praise.
I can honestly report that each of the speakers was excellent. The diversity of speakers was obvious with several of them being women and several of various racial and national backgrounds. We heard masterful lectures from men like David Watson of United Seminary and touching testimonies of some whose lives had been dramatically changed by Christ's grace. Also three bishops spoke, including one of the bishops from Africa,Bishop Kasap Owan, of South Congo. He assured the crowd that just as Africa (Egypt) protected and gave refuge to Jesus from those who would destroy Him when He was born, so Africa today will protect the gospel from those who would destroy or distort it.
Can the WCA save the United Methodist Church? Increasingly I am believing that the United Methodist Church cannot be saved in its present form. The factions are too fierce; the divisions are too deep. No person, other than God, knows what will occur at the called General Conference next February in St. Louis. Because of the uncertainly, the WCA is developing a number of contingency plans, but it is obviously impossible to foresee every possible outcome of the conference.
Finally, here is the underlying tone that I sensed. There is a longing for integrity. People have become wearied of living a broken covenant. There is a desire for a church that holds to the settled doctrines of the historic faith, unashamedly proclaims the Wesleyan tradition, and is bold enough to discipline its own when its own covenant is defied. There is a desire to pursue mission for the transformation of the world without the distractions of infighting within the church.
The United Methodist Church is headed for a very tumultuous time just ahead. It will not exist in its pesent form after the 2019 Conference. Will it go more Conservative? Will it go more Progressive? Will it go more Middle? Will it divide? Will it be completely dissolved and re-organized into two or more new denominations? I do not know. It is unlikely that the factions, which see and interpret Scripture in such starkly opposite ways, can stay together. They shouldn't stay together. What I do know is that the Sovereign God who is Love will prevail, and whatever happens to The United Methodist Church, the Kingdom of God will increase. Jesus is Lord over all. The Church will ultimately triumph and Christ will be all in all. Amen.
KEEP "MAS" IN CHRISTMAS
For decades now, Christians have been pleading with the culture to keep Christ in Christ-mas. But now some Christians may be in danger of losing, not only Christ in Christmas, but also the "mas" in Christ-mas. And to do so would be to lose Christmas altogether. December 25th would then become simply another family get-together for food, gifts, and watching some football on TV.
So what do I mean by keeping "mas" in Christmas? Simply this: the word "Christmas" is the shortened form for "Christ's Mass". Mass is the English word which was derived from a Latin term which referred to the worship service in which Holy Communion was celebrated. For earlier Christians every worship service was a "mass". So, the word "Christmas" literally refers to the worship service in honor of Christ's birth. Thus, in order to celebrate ChristMAS, one must actually be part of the "MAS" , that is, the worship service that celebrates the birth of Christ.
Obviously then, if a person argues for keeping Christ in Christmas, that same person should attend the worship service (the mas[s]). Otherwise, Christmas has not been observed at all...the "mas" has been lost and all you are left with is Christ. But, if we cannot keep the communal worship of Christ, the "mas", have we not also left Christ behind?
It would be similar to saying, "There's going to be a birthday party for Christopher... and I'm going to remember you, Christopher, on your birthday, but, I won't be coming to the party, because, well, I've got other things I want to do that day, like share some presents with my family and have a big meal, and watch some TV...but don't worry, Christopher, even though we won't attend your party, I'll be sure to mention to my kids that it's your birthday."
So, be sure to keep Christ in Christmas...but don't forget to keep "mas" in Christmas, too.
IGNATIUS ON ATTENDING WORSHIP
Even in his day, some were becoming slack in their regular church attendance. As you may recall, just a few years earlier John the apostle, writing to the Ephesian church in the book of Revelation, challenged them because they had left their first love, that is, their love for Christ had grown cool. Ignatius saw that one thing which contributed to this was their laxity in attending the services. So he writes to the Ephesians, "Let no one be misled: if anyone is not within the sanctuary, he lacks the bread of God....Therefore whoever does not meet with the congregation thereby demonstrates his arrogance and has separated himself, for it is written, 'God opposes the arrogant.'" (Letter to Ephesus 5:2a, 3) Later in the same letter he states, "For when you meet together frequently, the powers of Satan are overthrown and his destructiveness is nullified by the unanimity of your faith." (Letter to Ephesus 13:1) In these few sentences Ignatius sees a great benefit of taking the "bread" of God, a reference to the Holy Eucharist meal, which, if a person were absent, he would miss the great power and benefit of that meal. The arrogance or pride of which Ignatius speaks is that of a person who thinks he doesn't really need to attend. He can do just fine without going to worship. Quoting from Scripture, Ignatius notes that God opposes such a person. Ignatius also notes that great victories are won over the Satanic enemy of our souls when we gather together to worship and express our faith in God.
St. Ignatius was an early bishop of the Christian Church in the city of Antioch of Syria. His life overlapped that of some of the apostles, and he was martyred, according to the 4th century church historian, Eusebius, sometime in the middle of the rule of the Roman emperor Trajan. Trajan ruled from 98 A.D. to 117 A.D. We probably would know little of this great bishop if it were not for the fact that he wrote 7 letters during the last few weeks of his life, while he was awaiting his execution at the hands of Rome. These letters were to the following: A letter to the Church at Ephesus, a letter to the Church at Magnesia, a letter to the Church at Tralles in Asia, a letter to the Roman churches, a letter to the Church of Philadelphia, a letter to the Church at Smyrna, and a separate letter to Polycarp who was the bishop of the Church at Smyrna. Of course, this is the same Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John and who himself was later martyred.
These letters by Ignatius give us some distinct insight into the life of Christian churches in that generation which immediately succeeded the apostolic age. They were written within 20 or 30 years of the death of John.
Knowing that his death was imminent, Ignatius wished to give final instructions to these churches, along with encouragement and a taste of his own testimony of faith.
I will close this episode of Ignatius with this tidbit from his admonition to Polycarp, "Do not let those who appear to be trustworthy yet who teach strange doctrines baffle you. Stand firm, like an anvil being struck with a hammer. It is the mark of a great athlete to be bruised, yet still conquer. But especially we must, for God's sake, patiently bear all things, so that He may also bear with us. Be more diligent than you are. Understand the times. Wait expectantly for the One who is above time: the Eternal, the Invisible, who for our sake became visible; the Intangible, the Unsuffering, who for our sake suffered, who for our saked endured in every way." (Letter to Polycarp 3:1-2)
For the next few days I intend to post some interesting quotes from Ignatius' letters. Stay tuned.
Early in my childhood my grandparents moved from New Jersey to Tampa, Florida. We lived in Ohio at the time, and my grandparents' move initiated a great excitement for me and for the rest of our family, because once a year we always took a vacation to visit them...and now, they were in Florida, the mecca of tourist attractions in the south. The beach, the parks, the museums...all of these were anticipated excitements, especially the yearly visits to the Clearwater and St. Petersburg Gulf beaches. We LOVED these vacations, and each year started getting excited adrenaline flowing as the days drew near for our yearly trek south.
Then my dad got one of the greatest ideas a dad could ever get for a kid. He applied for and got a job in Tampa. Yeah!!! We were going to actually live there. So we sold our home, packed our belongings and made the life-altering move to the always-sunny state of Florida with its constant invitation to exciting life.
There was just one little problem. After a couple of months, the whole thing began to feel mundane. The excitement wore off in a hurry. Oh, for a while we tried to keep it going by visiting a lot of the attractions, but after awhile I began to really miss my old school mates and neighborhood friends. Everything began to look darker than I had imagined it would be. Soon I didn't even enjoy trips to the beach.
It didn't take long for me to wish we were back "home". We stayed in Florida. Never moved back (although we did move to Jacksonville). But I learned a very important lesson in that early stage of life. Well, I almost learned it. I still find myself enticed by excitement, but I have come to realize how fleeting and empty it can actually be. Staying in the Father's house, in the long run, always produces more lasting joy than moving to a far country.
< New text box >>
THREE IMPORTANT LENTEN DISCIPLINES
In Matthew 6:1-18 Jesus emphasizes three important Christian disciplines, each of which is a means of grace: giving to the poor, prayer, and fasting. While these practices should be a part of every Christian's life throughout the year, Lent is a season when a re-focus on these important disciplines leads us back to the important aspects of our faith. If giving, prayer, and fasting are to be means of grace, they must be praticed, not to be noticed or praised, but in a private and unseen way. There is a promise attached to each practice. God, who sees in secret, will reward us openly. The nature of the reward is not always known ahead of time, but whatever reward God gives, it is a reward of grace. All of these disciplines are practices in self-denial. In giving to the poor I deny myself material goods that I might have had; in prayer I deny myself of time I might have used on self-centered interests; in fasting I deny myself the satisfying of appetites that might otherwise have led me into self-indulgence.
"While earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." (Genesis 8:22) From the beginning of time God built natural rythms into the creation. These rythms of time are like opposite poles on a magnet, positives and negatives. It didn't take long for early believers to see the value of seasonal rythms in the life of the Church, and so both Feasts and Fasts were built into the calendar. It was easy to know that the Incarnation (Christmas) and the Resurrection (Easter) were times of celebration and deserved feasting and rejoicing.
And as the life of Jesus was studied, it was noticed that Jesus had both feasting and fasting built into the rythms of His life. The 40 day struggle in the wilderness was not a time of celebration and feasting, but a time of spiritual battle and fasting. The Church year reflects these alternating emotions of life.
Lent helps us identify with Jesus' temptations in the wilderness: 40 days of serious self-denial and spiritual warfare. During this time, while we do look ahead to the glories of Easter, we focus on "doing battle" with the temptations in our own lives. We pray. We fast. We engage ourselves in the Christian disciplines. During these times our faith, though tested, is deepened, so that when the time of feasting comes, we will be well-prepared to celebrate. But for the moment, we cast aside the wine and the fatted-calf, so that we might dig deeply into the wells of salvation. The digging can be laborious and challenging, but it is always rewarding.
Rehoboth United Methodist Church
225 Rehoboth Church Rd
Newbern, TN 38059
Phone: 731 285-3492
Or use our contact form.
When all of life flows out of the worship of God, all the pieces begin to fit together.
Regular Service Times
Sunday Worship 9:30 a.m.
Sunday disciple classes 10:30 a.m.
Sunday women's Bible Study, 10:30 a.m.
Sunday evening worship -- 5:00 p.m.
Men's Bible Study, Fri. 7:00 a.m. Java Cafe, Dyersburg
Men's Bible Study, Sat. 6:30 a.m. Nana's cafe, Newberna.m. Food Rite, Newbern