Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Global Wesleyan Alliance and Free Methodism

In the news in my circles is the forming of a new alliance known as the Global Wesleyan Alliance. This is a group of denominations that have a shared heritage deriving from John Wesley and the revolution that spawned from his ministry.

Wesleyans are an interesting bunch, namely in diversity. We can be as diverse as possible in Christianity with a range from heretical hyper liberal theologies all way down to the strictest, legalistic of heretical conservative theology. I am talking a range of literally "anything goes" down to "everything is sinful."

The merger seems to be of Wesley-inspired denominations that are middle of the road or more conservative. "The 11 denominations include the Free Methodist Church USA, Church of the Nazarene, The Wesleyan Church, Church of God (Anderson), The Evangelical Church, Evangelical Methodist Church, Churches of Christ in Christian Union, The Missionary Church, Congregational Methodist Church, Church of Christ Holiness USA, and Pilgrim Holiness Church." The stated goals of this merger are as follow:
  • "Cooperative ministry ventures.
  • Sharing pastors and making transfer and appointment of clergy across denominational lines more easily attainable.
  • Sharing and promoting materials and events aimed at advancing shared Kingdom concerns.
  • Increasing community among leaders at all levels.
  • Collaborating together in compassion and justice ministries.
  • Leveraging voice and contributions on matters commonly important to all groups.
  • Convening events to promote the holiness message and experience, discipleship, church health, compassion and justice ministries, leadership development and networking."
In many regards, I am very excited about this merger as I really think that Christians need to be closer, bound together as family. We need to be in alliance and cooperation. Collaborating on justice and compassion is a fantastic use of this this type of group. Having a local community of support for pastors is another great idea, potentially helping fix one of the major pitfalls of ministry.

For the reasons above, I think maybe we didn't go far enough in our alliance. There was talk of merging some denominations but " was concluded that an alliance would better serve the aims of each group and eliminate the cumbersome cost, complexity and administrative hardship required by merger." Without getting on my soapbox, to me, if the only thing holding some groups back from merging is cost and "administrative hardship" then there should have been a merger a long time ago. Division in the body of Christ should be by necessity only and I am not so sure the reasons listed are good enough. Something to reconsider for another time.

Another thing that I am excited about is the promotion of holiness in conjunction with Wesleyanism. Holiness, though fallen out of favor due to the legalism that came about in the early to mid 1900's, is a vital distinctive of our tradition and something that I think the world is desperate for. The holiness that I hope comes back into favor is a one that stresses that transformation we have been given through Christ and sanctification through the Holy Spirit to do the good work of reconciling all creation to God as we become more and more like Christ through the love of the Father.

I am a little concerned about alliances with denominations that don't allow women in ministry. Not that I think that this issue needs be divisive, but I do think it is a fundamental distinctive of our denomination and most of the holiness tradition. I have to assume the Church of Christ Holiness USA (COCHUSA) must be ok in teaming up with us in that they seem to be one of the only groups listed that doesn't ordain women.

I don't want to sound like I am criticizing this merger because I do think it will be for the best. I think ultimately I am little nervous about over-identifying with our theologically conservative roots. I admit that we have these roots and I am in agreement with many of the convictions that this side holds, I just feel that this side has had too much attention for too long. The church and world are in the midst of massive change. Christendom is coming to an end. No longer are the church and state so tied together in the US. The center of the church is shifting from North America to South America and Africa. These types of changes often create fear in people and many times the consequences are for people to clamp down, close off, polarize and police orthodoxy. It becomes very important about who is in and who is out.

I already feel like my Free Methodist (FM) family consists of two different groups. There is one that seems a little afraid of the future, maybe a little dispensational, over identifies with strong, theologically reformed personalities, and is far too interested in patriotism/politics/legislation in an attempt to hold on to Christendom. The other seems a bit more progressive, highlights missional theology, more social-justice minded, and ready to embrace the next epoch of church history in a culturally relevant way. I feel like the first group represents the majority of FM churches but is further away from traditional FM theology and praxis than the second group. The second groups seems closer to the roots of FM but this groups seems to want to disassociate itself from the brand of FM.  I am hoping for the second group to reclaim more holiness teaching and embrace its identity, helping to shape the church and world as we move forward.

I bring these two groups up because, in my humble opinion, I identify and am rooting for the second group. I love the FM church and desire to see her reclaim her radical roots so that she may be a voice in the current discussions. I am not divisive about my denominationalism, but I do think that if there are going to be denominations, our traditions should have something to say, a reason to exist. I believe that the FM church has a voice that the world needs to hear. A voice that calls out injustice. One that reclaims our identification with the poor. One that frees the slaves. One the promotes the equality of women and non-white ethnic groups. One that proclaims a gospel of transformation and sanctification that our lives may be lived in holy simplicity in promotion of our neighbors and our brothers and sisters around the world with less resources to the glory of the Christ through the Father's love. My only fear about the alliance recently formed is that this FM voice will be quieted. I fear that there will be an over-identification with our theologically conservative side and our radical voice will not be heard.

For now I will NOT wait and see who is going to influence who. I will NOT think of strategic ways to get the others to be more like us. For now I think we should enjoy a new found fellowship with old sisters and brothers.We should take a posture of submission and listening. We should hold fast to our distinctives all the while promoting an atmosphere of unity in essentials and understanding everywhere else.

May God be blessed in our unity!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Sandal of Christmas!

Baby Jesus, lying in a manger. Swaddling cloth. Animals. We know it. We can recite it from memory, even those who are not ardent believers.

But Christmas is scandalous in the highest degree.

The Creator of the universe became one of the creatures. Where does the One who holds all things together choose to be born? In an animal living space, feces and all. Who was there? No one important.

That is the mind-blowing part to me. No one important is at the Savior's birth. There is a man who works with his hands as a simple carpenter. Smelly, bottom-of-the-working-class shepherds living in fields came at the behest of angels. The wise men (immigrants) didn't show up until a while later. And, finally, there was young woman, pregnant out of wed-lock.

No one important attended the most important event the universe had ever seen. No kings. No philosophers. No beautiful people. No businesses. No one! Christmas belongs to the no-ones.

At the news that Mary is to bring forth the savior of the world, she sings the Magnificat, which is a beautiful song that reflects how Jesus' coming effects nobodies:

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Scattering the proud, bringing down the powerful and sending the rich away hungry. There is a change in the way the world operates. A new economy is revealed; God's economy. In Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection we see what God values. We see what is important to God. And what do we see: the first shall be last and the last first. Those who are humble will be exalted. Those who are are hungry, persecuted, mourning, poor are blessed.

This is NOT because God loves those who suffer, but because God loves to save those who are hurting. God is in the business of making everything right, bringing down all injustice and destroying every evil. John the Baptist announces Jesus this way:

"‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
   and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
   and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Does your Jesus topple the mountains of power and injustice? Does he fill in the valley of mourning, death and depression?

May we follow a Christ who truly brings Peace on Earth and goodwill to all people!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

One of my Favorite Christmas Albums of all Time!

One of my favorite Christmas albums of all time is by The Choir at your Door's album with the same name. It is absolutely free and you can get it HERE! You would be a fool to not pick up this album.

This album is mostly original Christmas songs. The songs are such that one can listen to it year round - and I do!

This album is a project of Aaron Roche and Nathan Phillips. Both of these artist are independently some of my favorite indie singer/song-writers. They both play under their own name but Nathan used to write under The Winston Jazz Routine (too many gigs people showed up expecting actual jazz and so he changed the name). His album "Sospiri" is one of my all-time favorite albums - if not the one.

They both seem to be writing with a Christian spirituality that permeates their music. There are lines, prayers and snippets in their albums that move me to deep worship. In this album, there is a BEAUTIFUL song about a man who has lost his job at Christmas time. Not only is the song written well, the man utters a prayer to God that brings me tears ("Father punish me but spare my family"). But ultimately, after the brass interlude, Phillips and Roche sing a part of the old Christian chorus from "As the deer" that just takes me to another place.

The stand-out song for me is "Will You Find Me?" The song features both artists singing from the perspective of God and Mother Mary soon-to-be pregnant with Jesus. There is a back and forth between the two, I believe Nathan is singing the part of God and Aaron is singing Mary.

The lyrics are:

"Will you find me?
Will my heart see?
Mother Mary
Am I to Carry?
Christ the Savoir
Who we wait for?
In a manger (???)
Are you Crazy?

La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la

Will you find me?
Will our hearts see?
When I call you
Will we answer?
Will you seek me?
Will we love you?
Will you receive?
Will we believe?       (x2)

Will you find me?
Will our hearts see?
Will you find me?
Will we answer?
Will you find me?
Will we love you?
Will you find me?
Will we believe?

Here is this track on youtube... but, again, get the whole album to get the full taste. It is free and fantastic! You can't beat that.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Maximus the Confessor on incarnation and the Word of God

"Just as our human word which proceeds naturally from the mind is messenger of the secret movements of the mind, so does the Word of God, who knows the Father by the essence as Word knows the Mind which has begotten it (since no created being can approach the Father without him), reveal the Father whom he knows. As the Word of God by nature he is spoken of as the 'messenger of the great council.'"

Maximus the Confessor, Chapters on Knowledge, paragraph 22.