Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jon Lovitz: Judaism vs. Scientology

I caught this on The Tonight Show last night as I was flipping through the channels. I thought it was hilarious, and yet truly lays bare the absurdities of Scientology and other religions like it.

Since I don't have a clue as to how to get the video to show up on my blog (!), here is a link to The Tonight Show site where you can view Lovitz. While this should not be seen as an endorsement of Conan O'Brien, or The Tonight Show, or any of the rest of Lovitz's appearance in the video, I really do think Lovitz's talk about Scientology is hilarious.

Full Communion Does Not Open the Door for Gay Clergy in the UMC

In a recent article about the Full Communion agreement between the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I raised the question of what the ELCA's new position on gay clergy would mean for the UMC. It seems that both denominations have been quick to clarify that the new ELCA position does not in any way compromise the position of the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Church has, for decades, in continuity with Scripture and the historic Church, maintained the position that homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching," and that "self-avoid practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church." That position will continue to be upheld by the United Methodists and will be respected by the Lutherans.

For more information, click here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

An Example of the Episcopal Teaching/Preaching Role in the Church of the Nazarene

One of the most important functions of those holding the episcopal office is that of preaching and teaching; the proclamation of and the guarding of the faith. That is why I am so thankful for the new book, Blameless At His Coming, a number of "holiness" sermons by the Nazarene Board of General Superintendents. (General Superintendent is the Wesleyan term for Bishop.)

Oh, it is not that I necessarily like the way that each G.S. went about talking about entire sanctification in each sermon. (I prefer a more classically Wesleyan approach over the "Baptism with the Holy Spirit" language of the 19th-Century holiness movement, which does make an appearance in the book.) Nevertheless, I appreciate the work of the General Superintendents proclaiming the "distinctive doctrine" of the Church of the Nazarene and the Wesleyan-holiness tradition. I am especially thankful for their conscious effort to make clear the relationship between the crisis experience of entire sanctification and the larger process of sanctification, as a whole; the growth in grace that takes place before and after the experience of entire sanctification. I believe, as is demonstrated in the revision of the Article of Faith, they were able to demonstrate the balance between the two aspects of sanctification without losing the importance of either.

I had the opportunity, recently, to tell James Diehl, my district's presiding General Superintendent at our July District Assembly (his last Assembly before he retired) that I greatly appreciated the book and his message during the ordination service that briefly touched on our Articles of Faith. I told him that the preaching & teaching that the G.S.s do is every bit as important to their episcopal role as the administrative duties they perform.

It should be noted, concerning the book, though the book is new, three of the General Superintendents whose sermons are featured have now retired and have been replaced by the three newly elected G.S.s at this summer's General Assembly.

I would suggest for those who pray the Daily Office that you consider including one sermon during Morning and/or Evening Prayer following the last Scripture reading. - I picked up that practice during my recent prayer retreat, and, although it does require more time, I found it very beneficial.

The book can be purchased at this link.

The UMC & the ELCA in Full Communion

This week the largest Lutheran denomination in America met in their Churchwide Assembly. Among the various resolutions voted upon, the ELCA voted to enter into full communion with the the United Methodist Church, the largest Methodist denomination in America.

The delegates of the 4.7 million member denomination voted to enter into full communion on August 20 by a margin of 958 to 51. They reportedly celebrated the historic occasion by singing Charles Wesley's O for a Thousand Tongues. After the vote was announced, Lutheran Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson hugged the president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, Bishop Gregory Palmer.

Last year, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted overwhelmingly to approve full communion by a margin of 864 to 19.

United Methodists, like all in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, have always practiced open communion. Additionally, they have "acted as though" they have been in full communion with not only the Pan-Methodist denominations (viz., the AME, AMEZ, and CME churches), but also the denominations of the World Methodist Council. That is to say, they have had joint Eucharistic services wherein UM & other Wesleyan/Methodists have been involved and presided (e.g., at the World Methodist Conferences and other WMC related events).

Nevertheless, this is the very first "official" full communion agreement for the UMC. (It does make one wonder if they ought not to have declared themselves in full communion with the WMC denominations, first. Such a declaration would have simply stated what their practice has already indicated, though, of course, such a declaration would still fall short of the kind of mutual, written agreement now entered into between the UMC & the ELCA. - And, of course, such discussion is really moot!)

What this new agreement means is that each denomination now officially recognizes the other as a partner in the Christian faith, recognizes the authenticity of each others baptism and Eucharist, recognizes the validity of each others orders of ministry (e.g., deacons & elders), and commits each to working together toward greater unity. (The UMNS article can be viewed here.)

Such an agreement would, indeed, be worth celebrating. - However, actions taken by the ELCA in their Churchwide Assembly may raise some issues concerning the agreement.

It seems that the ELCA delegation also voted to not only allow the blessing of same-sex unions, but also to open holy orders to partnered gay and lesbian Lutherans. Prior to this Assembly, the Lutheran policy concerning the ordination of those who identified as gay or lesbian was to only ordain them if they remained celebrate. That has now changed. (See ELCA News article, here.)

The question that this raises is how will the UMC deal with Lutheran ministers who are in partnered same-sex relationships. On the one hand, full communion indicates the recognition of the validity of ELCA orders. On the other hand, despite all of the attempts to change the UMC position, the United Methodists continue to maintain that the "practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," and therefore, "self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church" (Discipline, 2004, par. 304.3). - Will there be a backlash at the next General Conference? Will there be a backlash prior to the next G.C.? Or, will this situation provide momentum for those in the UMC who want to see their own policy change?

For many, the further actions of the Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA have put a large damper on what would otherwise be a glorious celebration.

Beyond the question of UMC/ELCA relations is the question of what will become of the many, many ELCA Lutherans who mourn the decision of their Churchwide Council? Will they remain and work for renewal within their beloved denomination?

All of the readers of this blog are asked to pray for all of our Christian sisters and brothers within the UMC and the ELCA who have been or will be affected by the momentous decisions of this week's Assembly.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

1st Friday Letter

The first Friday of each month (or there abouts) the Rev'd. Dr. George Freeman, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council, sends out a letter to the World Methodist Council Executive Committee. This month Dr. Eugenio Duarte, newly elected General Superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene, made Dr. Freeman's letter.

The letter can be viewed on the WMC website, under News and Events, then under 1st Friday Letter, by clicking on July-August 2009 1st Friday Letter, or simply by clicking here and then clicking on the July-August 2009 link.

Also in that letter, one will find an advertisement for a theology conference sponsored by the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand (the New Zealand branch of The Wesleyan Church in the U.S.), in cooperation with the Church of the Nazarene. The conference features speakers including Dr. Tom Noble of Nazarene Theological College in England.

It should be noted that, although Dr. Freeman gives me credit for the article on Dr. Duarte, I simply mentioned the subject to him and pointed him to the link for the story. I had nothing to do with the actual writing of the actual article. Still, I'm always happy to see the Church of the Nazarene make World Methodist news.