Archive - May, 2015

A New Church Being Called Forth by the Holy Spirt #6:

 

A MISSIONARY CHURCH

Shortly before I was elected as bishop in the United Methodist Church, I stood with others, including two bishops, at a tiny country church in Leesville, Texas.  A plaque was dedicated to Alejo Hernandez who had been ordained at Leesville in 1871 by Bishop Enoch Marvin.  In part the plaque reads simply, “He was a burning bush and the first to preach the gospel among the Mexicans in the manner done by the Methodists.”

In 1873 Bishop Keener charged Hernandez “with the responsibility of opening a Methodist mission. With the result, as described by the secretary of the Board of Missions:  ‘Brother Hernandez has been subjected to the dire necessities of poverty, to the persecutions of superstitious ignorance and bigoted power, and to the no less potent influences of flattery. But out of all the Lord hath brought him by his power.’” (http://www.gcah.org/history/biographies/alejo-hernandez)

Reverend Hernandez was a man on a mission.  He understood himself as driven by the Lord through the Holy Spirit and assigned by the bishop.  Illness caught up with him in Mexico, and he did not live long.  Buried in Corpus Christi, Texas, his tombstone reads:  “He was a burning bush and the first to preach the gospel among the Mexicans in the manner done by the Methodists.”

Methodism began as a missionary movement!  People like Hernandez were the norm not the exception.  The term missionary comes from mission and it details a person sent on a mission in the name of and by the power of the Risen Christ.

For decades the term missionary was dismissed as a form of cultural imperialism.  Yet today the Pentecost movement in China is largely the legacy of North American missionaries prior to World War II.  The phrase missional with all its variations on “mission” and “missionary” calls those who are Christ followers back to the deep sense of being sent by Christ.  It is the awakening of the claim of Matthew 28:16-20 – The Great Commission.  Rightly it has been said that the church doesn’t so much have a mission, the church is a mission – a people sent to share the gospel in word and deed by Christ himself.

Alan Roxburgh, author of The Missional Leader, writes:  “If ever there was a word that has shaped North American Christianity in the opening decades of the 21st century it is the word missional.”  He continues with the following:

In 1998 Eerdmans published a book with the title Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America.  It was written in the most unlikely manner by a team of missiologists, theologians and practitioners who met for three years to compose the book.  The book’s genesis lay in the convergence of various people inside a new network called the Gospel and Our Culture Network.  Comprised of people from a variety of church backgrounds (Methodist, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist and Anabaptist) GOCN coalesced around the writings of Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, a missionary in India for over thirty years.  Newbigin, upon his retirement in the mid 70’s returned to his native England to encounter the fact that the Christian culture he had left some thirty years earlier had all but disappeared.  Having a keen missionary sensibility Newbigin recognized that by the latter part of the 20th century the mission field for the Gospel had shifted dramatically.  The greatest challenge to Christian mission was now those very nations that had once sent missionaries out around the world.  It was the peoples of Europe, shaped by the Western tradition, that were rapidly losing their identity as Christian.  In one memorable epithet Newbigin asked the question: Can the West be converted?  That question captured the imagination of church leaders in the UK and Europe.  It represented one of the fundamental issues that had to be addressed by the church but had not been articulated so clearly until that point.  The challenge facing the Western churches was the re-conversion of its own people.”  (From a paper presented by Alan Roxburgh to United Methodist Church Developers in 2007, “What is Missional Church?”)

What we need today, what God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is calling into being, is a new church – a missionary church in the truest sense of the word!  Properly understood a missionary church is a sent church.  Such a sending comes from the authority of the risen Christ.  By its very nature it encompasses both personal and social holiness, both justice/mercy and evangelism, both justification and sanctification – “make disciples” + “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.”  The focus of attention is not on institutional survival but on serving the Lord through loving others in the fullest understanding & sense of love.

Again Roxburgh is on target.

“The biblical narratives are about God’s mission in, through and for the sake of the world.  The focus of attention is toward God not the other way around.  The missio dei is about a theocentric rather than anthropocentric understanding of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection which itself, as the apocalyptic engagement of God with the world, breaks into creation in order to call forth that which was promised from the beginning – that in this Jesus all things will be brought back together and made new.  But the focus of the missional is doxological.  It is not about, in the modern, Western, expressive individualist sense, meeting my needs.  The perpendicular pronoun is not the subject of the narrative; God is the subject.” (Alan Roxburgh, IBID)

Put bluntly a missional church is a movement for Christ that goes into the world (thus is incarnational at the essence of its methodology).  Worship, spiritual formation, bible study and the like provide a critical shaping that propels us forward.  The ancient theme so well explicated in 1 & 2 Peter of “in the world but not of it” is applicable at the very core of the churches’ being.

What are some of the practical elements of a sent church, a missionary church?  A missionary church will be:

1.  Christ centered at its heart.
2.  Spirit led in its soul.
3.  Sacrificial in nature.
4.  Servant oriented in character.
5.  Incarnational in methodology.
6.  Explicitly evangelistic in witness.
7.  Creatively engaging in its expression.

All this sounds good until we get down to particulars.  Yet if the gospel is anything, it is about the scandal of particularity.  The High God of the universe comes in the baby named Jesus.  This same Lord God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is calling a new church into being.  As the years unfold we can expect and even rejoice in a wondrously different shaping of the “United Methodist” part of the church universal.  We are at the end of a time of cultural privilege and accommodation.  The days of the guaranteed appointment in its current form are numbered.  The dominance of a physical structure (building) is receding.

Who knows what will happen?  Only God.  Methodism started as a missionary movement.  This is where our future lies.  We are in for a wild, exhilarating, terrifying wild ride.  The Holy Spirit is calling a new church into being.

A NEW CHURCH BEING CALLED FORTH BY THE HOLY SPIRIT #5:

The Three Orthos at the Heart

At the very heart of a new church being called forth by the Holy Spirit will be what I call the three orthos.  At its core the healthy renewed Christian movement in American will be a combination of orthodoxy, orthropraxis, and orthokardia.  The word ortho comes from the Latin and late Greek.  It means right or correct.  Thus orthodox = right belief or right (correct) doctrine.  Orthopraxis = right practice or correct action and practice.  Orthokardia = right heart.

Over the years the church has on different occasions emphasized one of the three above the others; thus, there have been times when right doctrine so dominated practice and heart that the result lacked grace.  There have been occasions when heart has been right but the actions disastrously mistaken.  There have been times when the practice was holy but its lack of cohesion with heart and doctrine led to long term mistakes with little lasting strength.

Orthopraxy, which is currently in ascendant position of the three, is an insistent emphasis in Wesleyan thinking.  Thus Don Thorsen in Cavlin vs. Wesley: Bringing Belief in Line with Practice writes,

“Wesley emphasized that the church ought to be more than a congregation of believers – more than ‘faithful men’; it ought to also exhibit ‘living faith.’  It is not enough for people to exhibit right belief (or orthodoxy); they ought to also exhibit a right heart (orthokardia) and right practice (orthopraxis).  From Wesley’s perspective, the devil (as well as other religious people) may hold to ‘orthodoxy or right opinions,’ but ‘may all the while be as great a stranger as he to religion of the heart’” (Don Thorsen, Calvin vs. Wesley: Bring Belief in Line with Practice, p. 98).

Significantly, “progressives” with an emphasis on enlightenment-thinking and a reasoned faith and “evangelicals” with an passion for doctrinal correctness both run the risk of ignoring religion of the heart (orthokardia).  Orthokardia holds a critical function of constantly directing our attention to Christ as the center of the Christian faith.  I am convinced that much of the emphasis of modern praise music is an attempt recapture a forgotten orthokardia.  So too is much of the renewed interest in spiritual formation.

Orthodoxy, correct or right doctrine, was central in the life of the earliest Christian movement. After the Holy Spirit descended, Peter preached, and listeners responded with repentance. The life of the newborn church was anchored in its doctrine. “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers” (Acts 2:42).  Jaroslav Pelikan (one of the great scholars of the Christian faith over the last half century) in Acts: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, references the textus a patribus receptus with a stronger translation of action of those earliest Christ followers.  “And they were persisting in the doctrine of the apostles” (textus a patribus receptus, excerpt from Jaroslav Pelikan, Acts: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), p. 57; emphasis added).  Thus the critical importance of doctrine (or foundational teaching) emerges as a centerpiece of the life of the earliest Christian church.  The importance of doctrine towers over any strategy for growth or program for action.  It is a first-order claim on the life of the church.

John Wesley famously wrote: “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast to both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out” (John Wesley, “Thoughts Upon Methodism,” 1786).

Wesley both assumed and argued for the essential importance of doctrine.  His genius is the way doctrine is combined with spirit and discipline.  In other words, part of the genius of early Methodism was the way it combined the three – orthodoxy, orthropraxis, and orthokardia. Such a connection is a reflection of what early Methodists called “primitive Christianity.”  They reached back to the first expression of the Christian faith found in the book of The Acts of the Apostles as well as the writings of Paul and the Gospels to grasp again at what was essential and central to the Christian movement.  Among a number of distinctive elements the Methodist movement brought back to the fore was the embodiment of theology (orthodoxy) in spirit (orthokardia) and discipline (orthopraxis).  Properly understood for Methodists was the notion that theology – core doctrine – was not an idle aside but a central expression of the faith to be lived out or embodied.

I close this writing on a deep conviction that God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is doing a wonderful thing.  A new church is being called forth for our post-Christendom age.  The words of Ross Douthat (which I have quoted before) are worth re-emphasizing.

“The rootlessness of life in a globalizing world, the widespread skepticism about all institutions and authorities, the religious relativism that makes every man [and woman] a God unto himself [or herself] – these forces have clearly weakened the traditional Christian churches. But they are also forces that Christianity has confronted successfully before. From a weary Pontius Pilate asking Jesus “what is truth?” to Saint Paul preaching beside the Athenian altar to an “unknown God,” the Christian gospel originally emerged as a radical alternative in a civilization as rootless and cosmopolitan and relativistic as our own. There may come a moment when the loss of Christianity’s cultural preeminence enables believers to recapture some of that original radicalism. Maybe it is already here, if only Christians could find a way to shed the baggage of a vanished Christendom and speak the language of this age” (Bad Religion, by Ross Douthat, pg. 278-279).

A New Church Being Called Forth By the Holy Spirit #4

The Building

Prior to the Council of Bishops meeting in Berlin, I had been engaged in a series of blogs under the broad label “A New Church Being Called Forth by the Holy Spirit.”  During the COB meeting, I took time out to share Bishop Warner Brown’s (President of the Council of Bishops) “open letter” on prayer and healing which made up a part of his address to the Council.  With my fellow bishops, I shared our “Pastoral Letter on Racism.”  While I am now turning my attention back to the series on “A New Church Being Called Forth by the Holy Spirit,” I wish to emphasize my (and hopefully our – the entire Central Texas Conference) ongoing concern that we continue with ardent zeal to address issues of racism and discrimination wherever they take place in the world.  We have already planned (for over two years) to address the issues of radical hospitality and cultural sensitivity at this coming Annual Conference.  For Christians these issues (radical hospitality & cultural sensitivity) lay the foundation and are at the heart of combating racism.

Photo from Trip Advisor

Photo from Trip Advisor

Moving back to my series on a new church being called forth, Jolynn and I had the blessing of spending 8 days in Italy on vacation prior to the COB gathering.  We spent two in Florence.  If you ever venture to that great city, phenomenal artwork abounds.  Museums leave even the casual visitor quieted by thought.  At the center of it all is the great “duomo” (cathedral church) Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (“Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower”).  Located in the center of Florence its great dome literally towers above the city.  (A great quick read about the Florence duomo is Ross King’s book Brunelleschi’s Done: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture.)

I not only toured the great cathedral church and visited the fascinating crypt; I climbed to the top ofduomo selfie the Brunelleschi’s dome!  (In my defense, I got in the wrong line.  And, when I finished the climb (376 ft – the equivalent of a 37 story building!), I had a great view of Florence sitting outside at the top of the cupola while I recovered from my heart attack (just kidding about the heart attack – but not about the view!).

When I came down from the cupola and strolled through the cathedral, I could not help but reflect on the great churches I was seeing: St. Mark’s in Venice (my favorite), three different churches in Assisi (the churches of St. Francis and St. Claire), and Vatican in Rome.  Each in their own way was and is a moving testimony to the church faith.  Yet each had the air of a tourist museum albeit a holy, sacred, and awe-inspiriting museum.  This was not the intent of the builders of these great churches.  Nor is it the intent of the clergy leading these great churches today.  Yet a curious public appears captivated by the buildings.

At first, in my musings I was caught by own sinful arrogance.  I could not help but think how terrible it was for a church to become a museum; couldn’t help but reflect on the tragedy of people worshipping the building and neglecting the Savior.  As I stepped in the crypt of the Santa Maria del Fiore, it occurred to me that we have the same issues in Central Texas.

Despite our best intentions, it is so easy to slip into an adoration of the building and neglect the Savior.  I recall a conversation with a young pastor who had interned with me when I was senior pastor of University UMC in San Antonio.  She was assigned to her own church (well, its Christ’s church but she was now a solo pastor at a church).  She was thrilled to be there but distressed by what she encountered.  In a changing urban landscape, the church had once worshipped over 1,000 on an average Sunday. Over the years it had gradually slid to an average attendance of just over 100.  Significantly over the years the congregation had built a huge endowment fund.  Unfortunately the fund was restricted for building maintenance, upkeep, and capital improvements.  The young pastor and some wise lay leaders sought how they might move away from adulation of the facility to missional engagement with the neighborhood.

The new church being called forth by the Holy Spirit will be mission-driven and not building bound.  The combination of smaller and bigger will result in more “house” churches and the use of more rental facilities.  Simultaneously, the bigger or regional churches are finding that finances driven a building of multi-use facilities.   I think this is not only a good thing, but the Spirit’s initiative.

Furthermore the missional/evangelistic church being born face the future with a stance of flexibility towards building use.  Signs of this emergence are already all around us.

Recently in two different venues (a comment from a bishop at our recent Council of Bishops meeting in Berlin and a blog by a seminary president), I have had cause to learn a new term which is changing the building dynamic of denominations (like UMC, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.) with an excess of physical plants designed for 1950.  The term is “redundant church.”  There is already a Wikipedia definition for a “redundant church.”  “A redundant church is a church building that is no longer required for regular public worship. The phrase is particularly used to refer to former Anglican buildings in the United Kingdom, but may refer to any disused church building around the world. Reasons for redundancy include population movements, changing social patterns, merging of parishes, decline in church attendance or other factors. Although once simply demolished or left to ruin, today many redundant churches find new uses as community centres, museums, houses or other more innovative solutions.”

A couple of years ago the Cabinet read the book Legacy Churches by Stephen Gray and Franklin Dumond.  It details how a church through its building can help leave a legacy by starting new congregations.  It can repurpose itself missionally to reach a new generation and/or it can sell the physical facility to help finance a new start elsewhere.  (There are a number of other options but hopefully these examples offer a glimpse of how the church can be mission-driven – “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” – and not building-bound.)

Prior to being elected bishop, I served for two years as a new church developer.  I can still vividly recall a conversation with my counterpart in Southern California who spoke about the challenge of what to do with money and resources gained from the sale of closed congregations.  As wonderful as buildings are, they are tools for ministry under the leading of the Holy Spirit.  As we move from Christendom into this post-Christian culture we are experiencing, the repurposing of physical building will be a growing issue and a source of wonderful mission opportunity.  (A blog worth reading on this subject is Would You Sell Your Church for $1? by Dr. Timothy Tennent, Wednesday, April 22, 2015)

COUNCIL OF BISHOPS PASTORAL LETTER ON RACISM

While I have been in Europe attending the Council of Bishops meeting in Berlin, we as the world-wide Council have lived with the ongoing news of racial strife across the globe.  One regular aspect of the nightly news here in Europe has been the struggle of European countries to respond in humanitarian ways to the refugees from North Africa.  (For those unaware, there is a veritable tide of refugees crossing the narrow parts of the Mediterranean seeking the safety and financial opportunities that Europe offers.  Typically, they land in Italy.  By analogy for Americans, this is very similar to the Cuban and Vietnamese boat refugees that the United States has experienced in the past.)  We have also been following the news of continuing clashes over police action in places like Baltimore.  We are constantly aware of racial and tribal conflict in the Middle East.

However someone understands any given situation (whether in Italy, the United States, the Middle East or somewhere else in the world), it is clear that racism is a world-wide issue.  We who follow a Lord and Master who reached out in love to all people are committed to love, justice and mercy for all people.  All really means all!  Thus as a Council we believe we are to offer pastoral leadership on this critical issue for the whole church.  As such, our episcopal pastoral letter is also shared as a witness to the wider world.  I am convicted by the love of Christ to vote for this pastoral letter to the church and the world.  I am honored to join my sister and brother bishops in sharing it with the church and the world.

BishopCrest (4)“Grace and peace in the name of Jesus Christ!

We, the bishops of The United Methodist Church, are meeting in Berlin, Germany, 70 years after the end of World War II.  As we gather, we renew our commitment to lead, as together we seek to become the beloved community of Christ.

We are a church that proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.  On every continent, people called United Methodist are boldly living the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Yet, the people of our world are hurting, as injustice, violence and racism abound.  Our witness to the dignity of all human life and the reign of God is needed now more than ever.

Our hearts break and our spirits cry out, as we see reports of migrant people being attacked and burned in the streets of South Africa, note the flight of Jews from Europe, watch the plight of Mediterranean refugees and see racially charged protests and riots in cities across the United States that remind us that systems are broken and racism continues.  The evidence is overwhelming that race still matters, that racism is woven into institutional life and is problematic to communal health.  This reality impacts every area of life – in the church and in the world.

Racism is prejudice plus intent to do harm or discriminate based on a belief that one is superior or has freedom to use power over another based on race. Xenophobia is an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange.  Racism and xenophobia, like other sins, keep us from being whole persons capable of living up to our full potential. They deny the profound theological truth that we are made in the image of God with the handprint of love and equality divinely implanted in every soul.

As bishops of the Church, we cast a vision for a world community where human worth and dignity defeat acts of xenophobia and racism. We acknowledge that silence in the face of systemic racism and community fears serves only to make matters worse.

We commit to lead, model and engage in honest dialogue and respectful conversation and invite people of faith everywhere to join us.  Let us repent of our own racial bias and abuse of privilege.  May we love God more deeply and, through that love, build relationships that honor the desire of people everywhere to be seen, valued, heard and safe. As we proclaim and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, may we lead the way in seeking justice for all, investing in and trusting God’s transforming power to create a world without hatred and racism.

As United Methodists, we affirm that all lives are sacred and that a world free of racism and xenophobia is not only conceivable, but worthy of our pursuit.  We renew our commitment to work for a Church that is anti-racist and pro-humanity, believing that beloved community cannot be achieved by ignoring cultural, racial and ethnic differences, but by celebrating diversity and valuing all people.

“This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.” 1 John 4:21 (CEB)

RESOURCES

A New Dawn in Beloved Community:  Stories with the Power to Transform Us, Linda Lee, ed., Abingdon Press, 2012

Pan-Methodist Statement on Racism
from the 72nd Consultation of Methodist Bishops

Understanding and Dismantling Racism: the Twenty-First Century Challenge to White America,
Joseph Barndt,  Fortress Press, 2007″

A Call for Prayer and Healing from the Council of Bishops

council of bishops logo 2014_medOnce a quadrennium, the United Methodist Council of Bishops meets intentionally outside the United States, which reminds us that we are truly a worldwide church. As we gather in Berlin, I ask for your prayers, especially for those Christians undergoing persecution, civil unrest and violence, as well as those dealing with the devastation brought about by natural disasters. I also request prayers for all the bishops as we gather together to discern the Holy Spirit’s guidance of this great church.

On the opening day of our meeting, Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., president of the Council of Bishops, sent an open letter to the people of The United Methodist Church requesting that we all join together in prayer for the church and the world. Bishop Brown, not only remembered those who are suffering around the world, he also commented on the recent eruption of violence in Baltimore and the need to no longer be in denial about the powerful impact of racism in the U.S. Bishop Brown currently serves as bishop for the San Francisco Episcopal Area, but he grew up in the very neighborhood of Baltimore that is ground zero for the rioting and unrest in the area.

I offer up to you his letter as a guest blog post.

“To the people of The United Methodist Church:

Grace and peace to the people called United Methodist and all people of good will. I greet you in the name of Jesus, the Christ who is risen. From May 1-7, the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church will hold its 2015 meeting in Berlin, Germany. During this week, we will be praying for the church and taking actions that we hope will help lead the church in a faithful response to the call of discipleship. Please pray with us, for the church and all those the church seeks to serve.

We are a church that practices ministry to the world in Jesus’ name. While United Methodist churches are primarily in Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States, our ministry partnerships connect us with every continent. So, we grieve when the news of the day reminds us of the many ways the people of our world are hurting and suffering under the weight of tragedy. We seek to respond readily with prayers and aid to the natural disasters such as we have just witnessed in Nepal. And the human inflicted pain also requires a prayerful response that declares that terrorism, human exploitation, bullying and abuses of power will not overcome us.

Please join me and the Council of Bishops in prayer, reflection and action toward overcoming the issues that sometimes divide our societies. Together we can find ways, appropriate to our social context, for healing the brokenness between us.

For those of us in the United States, our attention has been called to the powerful impact of racism on all of us. If we seek healing, we cannot continue to be in denial. Some of us have read the shocking Justice Department report on Ferguson and most have seen the violence that tragically erupted there against police officers. Since then other unarmed Black men have been killed in several cities and now Baltimore has also erupted in violence.

As a Black man who grew up in the very Baltimore neighborhood we have watched explode, this is personal. I grieve over what I see in my old neighborhood. The anger in the community is real because of decades of distrust.

Video documentation has raised expectations that claims of wrongdoing would be seriously considered; so distrust grows because very few police officers have been held accountable.

A just society cannot be built on violence. Violence and misconduct by either a misguided police officer or an angry citizen will not lead us to beloved community. Reconciliation can occur when we tell the truth and take responsibility for our actions.

Rev. Willis Johnson, pastor of Wellspring United Methodist Church which serves Ferguson, Missouri, said this: “Who is going to become a model for dealing with reconciling and truth? That is the role of the Church!”

In this season of resurrection, the Council of Bishops and I believe that we followers of Jesus are called to lead the way. Let us examine and repent of our own sins of racial bias and abuse of privilege. Let us proclaim and live the Gospel of love and justice for all. Let us become proactive in modeling that gospel in our churches and teaching it to young and old alike. Let us be disciples who are engaged with God in transforming our world, beginning in our own communities, working for justice, judicial reform and good police/community relations. Let us break down the walls that divide us and build relationships that vanquish our fears. When we work together for justice and peace, we will no longer be strangers.

Remember, all who would follow Jesus, he calls us again and again to “love your neighbor as yourself.”(Matt.22:39) Even out of the injustice and violence he experienced, Jesus leads us to hope and resurrection. Let us believe in and practice the power of prayer for our world, our church, our neighbors and our own lives.

And, the risen Christ said to his followers, “remember, I am with you always.”(Matt.28:20)

Your brother in Christ,

Warner H. Brown, Jr.”

Following the  release of the Bishop Brown’s letter, Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of the Ohio West Episcopal Area called for the Council to issue a pastoral letter on racism and asked the president to appoint a task force to work on this effort, to be completed by May 7.