What we are for isn’t good enough. It just isn’t.
In fact, I’m not even sure that within The United Methodist Church there is consensus about what we are for.
What horrifies me is that I’m not sure United Methodists are capable of coming up with a vision that meets the demands of our own faith. I am afraid we may have lost faith in anything other than ourselves.
When I have experienced the UMC at its broader levels of organization, it has been very discouraging. I am saddened to witness good, sincere, and wonderful people trying so hard to show the rest of the church that God has been at work in our midst. It makes me sad, because I usually feel like most people don’t believe the hype.
When we are most passionate, we are too often talking about what we have done for God, not what God has done for us.
It is not good enough to be in favor of doing nice things, even for God or in the name of God.
We are dying. And it is because we are not certain we believe the world needs Jesus. But if the world doesn’t need Jesus, it surely doesn’t need us.
The world doesn’t need us to do something for it. The need is far more desperate and devastating than that. We are not enough. We never have been enough, even in our glory days. The world needs – people need – a relationship with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Far too often, an agnostic theology is lurking behind our actions. At our worst, our service seems to be motivated by a sort of guilt about our privilege. It becomes a kind of bargaining chip, and a sophisticated one at that! We make peace with our affluence, or at least try to, by doing something for someone else every once in a while.
There is no hope for The United Methodist Church unless what we are for is adequate to the gospel that justifies our existence.
We should stubbornly and persistently be for this very gospel. The good news is that in Jesus of Nazareth the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God’s grace has been unleashed on a broken and hurting world.
I am almost tempted to say that United Methodists should fast from doing things for God. Instead, we should relearn how to talk about what God has already done for us. We need to start by telling ourselves about Jesus, about what he has already done for us and which we cannot do for ourselves – practicing it until none of us are embarrassed or hesitant to say the name of Jesus. We need to state clearly that we are all desperate for God’s grace, that without it we are utterly and hopelessly lost.
We should be for conversion. We should be unapologetically in favor of calling people to turn away from sin and towards God’s grace, because we are certain that this is the hope that we can offer them. We need to state clearly that we are justified by faith in Christ, not by our works. We need to know that we cannot save ourselves.
We need to be for holiness. Not because we are confident in our ability to make ourselves better, but because we believe that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead means that sin and death no longer have the last word and no longer should inhibit our hope for what is possible now by the grace of God.
We need to quit carelessly denying the possibility of complete freedom from sin in this life. Instead, we need to be honest and broken by our complicity with the ways of sin and death. Rather than endorsing sin by thoughtlessly saying “nobody’s perfect”, we need to recognize that sin continues in our lives because we will it to continue. We sin not because we must, but because we choose sin over the freedom that God gives us from sin.
Methodists who are worthy of the name should be unabashedly in favor of Christian perfection. What is at stake is not a vague theological principle. Our hope is at stake. Where is our hope? If it is in ourselves or human capacity, then we would be foolish to preach Christian perfection. But if our hope is in the One who has shattered sin and death’s hold on all who are created in the image of God, then why would we, how could we, tell anyone that God does not want them to experience complete freedom from all that keeps them from abundant life in the triune God?
The message of entire sanctification is not going to be extinguished before Jesus returns. When the MEC persecuted and expelled B. T. Roberts, largely because of his proclamation of Christian perfection, the Holy Spirit raised up a new people. Ultimately, this is God’s message and not our own.
I could be wrong, but I am afraid that United Methodism is where it is because we have not recognized the extent to which we are beggars in need of mercy, and we have not offered a message with sufficient sustenance to a world starving for the fullness of God’s grace.
We probably need to reorganize. We probably need to be more adaptive in leadership. But none of this matters if we don’t really believe the message we are proclaiming. Do we really believe in a risen savior? Do we really believe he is enough for a broken and hurting world? Do we really believe that the Holy Spirit is active, bringing healing and wholeness?
We are dying because what we are for is not enough. Our imagination and energy have drifted away from proclaiming the gospel with passion, energy, and conviction. When we encounter broken people, too often we are unsure if Jesus is enough.
Jesus is more than enough. And the truth is that he is all that we really have to offer. Thanks be to God, in Christ we are offered forgiveness of real sins, and freedom from sin’s pull on our lives. And as long as we are alive, we have the incredible opportunity to share this message of reconciliation and healing with the world.
Gary Holdeman said:
Great article Kevin…..I always enjoy your posts! I agree with much of what you wrote about….but after 20 years in the FMC …..I CHOSE to become a United Methodist. And I don’t regret that choice for one minute. I believe there is a “remnant” in UMC that is growing and vital and still preach holiness….(without using the old holiness terminology). Listen to John Ortberg’s cd series titled “Flow”….while he is not UM….it is a great example of relating “holiness” in contemporary terms. I would love to visit with you about my perspectives on FMC and UMC if you are interested…..but not appropriate in this setting. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org….Blessings! Gary Holdeman
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if my people, who belong to me, humble themselves, pray, seek to please me, and repudiate their sinful practices, then I will respond from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14
Then I heard another voice calling from heaven,“Come away from her, my people. Do not take part in her sins, or you will be punished with her.
Kevin Watson said:
Thanks for the kind words and the push back Gary. The main point of my reference to the FMC was that B. T. Roberts was on the right side of entire sanctification at the time that he was kicked out of the part of the church that has become the UMC. I will send you an email, as I’d love to hear more about your perspective! Blessings on your ministry!
Paul Lawler said:
Excellent article, comentary and truth! The church will be birthed and/or re-birthed anywhere God’s gospel is proclaimed. We can build Christendom, but only Jesus builds the church.
Brad Scott said:
I agree. The only way to unity in the very fragmented UMC and any church is to focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was for just such a time as this. Blessings on you for writing.
Amen. Well said.
David Desmond Player said:
WOW! This is bold and most prophetic. Help us Jesus! I want to be right where you stand and where you are headed. I trust my heart is full of love, joy, and passion for Christ…only You know Lord. “Looking away from all that distracts us to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. If atonement through Christ and perfection through grace is not our expereince, message, and passion we are merely dabbling in Christianity. I still await your visit to Altus to fellowship, preach and teach. We have prayed daily for three years now for awakening and revival in our lives, church, and state. Kindle in our hearts fresh fire for You, the Gospel, and helping to save the world you love so extravagantly and fiercely O Lord.
Kevin, Your words certainly struck a chord in my heart! I also feel most passionate about offering people Jesus Christ instead of inadequate human solutions. I think that it is critical for Christians to make this a life committment because I see so much destruction resulting from the mistaken concept that compassion cannot encompass Biblical truths. I will contend every time that when truth about Jesus is offered with full love at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit then healing will take place. How dare we offer hurting humanity less than the best! Thank you for your words and most of all for showing us your heart for Jesus. Kathy Cosner
Kevin, I serve a mid-sized, suburban UMC, and the congregation struggles intensely with what you’ve eloquently named. I have tried to articulate it many times, and you’ve given very helpful words. Thank you.
I wonder if you’ve done any thinking on the unintended effects of congregations who lose “faith in anything but themselves.” I’m far from innocent in doing so myself, but I can also say that the self-protection and preservation that I’ve experienced in the local church have been utterly exhausting for me as pastor, and worse, for laity who desire to lead others to something better.
Again, thank you for your words. I’ll be recommending this blog AND your book to many.
Teddy Ray said:
I didn’t think I had heard anything from you in a while, then looked back to see that your last post was in August. It’s as if this one has been building in you ever since. What a great and impassioned call to being who we are supposed to be.
I especially love your defense and celebration of Christian perfection. I’ve found no other doctrine so overwhelming and personally transformative. I’ve also found no other doctrine so consistently downplayed, rejected, or ignored — even among those claiming to be Wesleyan. Good to see people fighting for it and celebrating it.
Amen and thank you, thank you, thank you! It is what has been building in me ever since I started delving into what Wesley was about–the UMC has drifted so far from its roots and what it was called to be. I am a lifelong Methodist closer to 60 than 50. A year ago, at an Ash Wednesday Service, the pastor preaching told us to go out and tell people what “Jesus has done for me”–I sat there dumb as a post. I am starting to learn.
You have nailed it on the head about “what we are doing for God”. The thing that absolutely “slapped me in the face about Wesley was that he never once preached “go and do good works, it was “repent and be saved”–the good works were the fruit of a “new life”. And it has not been that far back, that as I was reading one of Kenneth Collins books on Wesley’s theology that I had the realization “Wow! It is about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit!”
My frustration has been great–thank you for voaclaizing this.
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Nathaniel Dean said:
Firstly, thank you for speaking that which the Holy Spirit has burdened your soul with. It resonates deeply with me. There is a theme of personal holiness often found in Scripture in the context of the words “walk worthy”. A few years ago, when I became sick of my own wretched excuses, the Holy Spirit began leading me in humble obedience to come to a whole new understanding of the impetus for this: I must love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Unless and until that is the basis for the very next breath I take, everything else I do will be rubbish! I won’t even be able to love my neighbor as myself until I can love them with the love of God. The deception of the enemy has bled the UM and many other denominations dry … leaving little more than benevolent, religious NGO’s. Anyone dissatisfied with one NGO can move on to another, religious or otherwise. Furthermore, the desperate response of my heart to the love of God, will be to love my neighbor by working to proclaim Salvation in Jesus name and by His blood and Sanctification by the mighty work of the Holy Spirit for their souls at least as hard as any efforts invested in their physical or emotional well-being. God forgive us for sending well-fed, self-esteeming, spiritually-dead souls on their earthly journey and into eternity.