Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bishops Being Bishops

This week I attended the M-11 Conference.  One of the workshops I attended was called "LOVE WINS.:LGBT How to Share Christ's Love with Your Gay Neighbor."  -  More about that a little later, but I mention it now, because the issue of the Church and homosexuality was one of the many issues that a number of people talked about at the conference.
In light of my recent posts about the United Methodist bishops (retired and active), it reminded me of how those holding the episcopal office in the Church of the Nazarene have responded to this issue.  -  What a contrast between the two sets of bishops.

First, let me say, parenthetically, I know my recent posts have not focused on the areas of liturgy/sacraments/worship.  That is usually the primary topic on my blog, along with news from within the Wesleyan/Methodist and the Anglican families.  I guess it is that "news from within the family" that has dominated lately, but there will be more posts on worship related topics in the future.

With that said, I stand in a unique position.  Not only do I have the opportunity to read what the two denominations (i.e., The UMC & the CotN) are saying, but I currently stand with "a foot in both worlds," as it were.  As many of you know, I am pastoring a United Methodist Church, but my membership and elder's orders are in the Church of the Nazarene. 

I think that each of the two denominations have something to teach the other, if we would listen to each other.  However, in this situation, I really think that the United Methodist bishops could take a lesson from the Nazarene general superintendents.

It is not that there are not individual UM bishops who are acting like bishops.  But there are plenty who are not; bishops who refuse to make clear their teaching of the faith of the church for their people, but rather hide behind statements like, "Whatever I may personally believe, I have committed to defend the Book of Discipline."  On the other hand, there are those who, while careful to make that latter clear, nevertheless make it equally clear that they hope to see the Discipline change on this matter.  Then there are those who merely call the church to pray for civil conferencing "on these difficult topics." 

Then there are the united voices of the 33+ retired bishops, as posted, below.

Where is the clear statement of the Council of Bishops, not just repeating, "This is what the Book of Discipline currently states," but rather actually doing the job of a bishop by teaching; expanding upon the statement of the Discipline, teaching why United Methodists believe what they believe and why it is important?

It is at this point (among others) that I think the Nazarene general superintendents have faithfully acted as bishops of the Church.  They have demonstrated their true episcopal role.  They have not merely hidden behind the Nazarene Manual (Book of Discipline) statement.  Nor have they side stepped the issue by calling us to merely discuss these difficult topics. (Not that prayerful discussions are unimportant, but to merely call for that alone is fail to faithfully discharge the episcopal role.)

The Nazarene BGS at the time of the
publication of the booklet.
 Instead, the Nazarene general superintendents have affirmed and clarified the Manual statement on Human Sexuality. They have posted a brief statement on sexuality on the denominational website.  More importantly, I think, a number of years ago they produced a 12 page booklet titled "Pastoral Perspectives from your General Superintendents: On Homosexuality," and the mailed it to Nazarene pastors.

In the opening address, the general superintendents say, "In the midst of a broad spectrum of responses that range from unconditional approval to loveless judgmentalism, how do our pastors and churches engage in this ministry?  This booklet is intended to assist in affirming the postion of our church and clarifying the understanding of Scripture regarding homosexuality and how you and your congregation can be a much-needed community of hope-filled truth and grace."

And, when the general superintendents received some questions about some of their statements, they went on to produce a paper called, "Further Clarification Concerning the Document 'A Pastoral Perspective on Homosexuality'" in order to address those questions.

My question is, where does the UM Council of Bishops "affirm the postion of the UMC and clarify the understanding of Scripture regarding homosexuality and how you and your congregation can be a much needed community of hope-filled truth and grace"?  (Which, by the way, is not a call for the bishops to simply "condem homosexuality."  Rather it is a call for them to express why the church has the position it does and how the church can be faithful to every aspect of their position, viz., by suggesting how the local church can be "a much-needed community of hope-filled truth and grace.")

Perhaps I have missed it.  Perhaps they have done that someplace.  I would be happy for someone to post a comment indicating that they have.  But, in light of the recent statement by the retired bishops and the report of the reaction of some of the active bishops, it does not appear that they have.

Perhaps when the bishops next meet in Council, they will do this very thing (though, given the range of reactions reported, it seems unlikely that they will make any statement beyond one similar to the very weak statements found earlier in this article).

The current Nazarene BGS
I would hope that the UM bishops would take a cue from their Nazarene counterparts, their fellow bishops in the Wesleyan/Methodist family.  In this regard, the Nazarene general superintendents were, indeed, bishops being bishops.

On a final note, not only do I want to give kudos to the Nazarene Board of General Superintendents, I also want to give kudos to Andy McGee, Letiah Fraser, Julie Hanson, and Sarah Weems who presented the workshop I mentioned, above:  "LOVE WINS.:LGBT How to Share Christ's Love with Your Gay Neighbor."  They demonstrated to us, and they demonstrate to those in their community every day, how the love of God can reach out through the Church (us!) to those in the LGBT community.  More information about them and their ministry can be found, here. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Still A Holiness Preacher

Way back in August of 1992 (on the 22nd, to be exact), during our wedding ceremony, one of the pastors officiating the ceremony commented to my bride, "You're marrying a holiness preacher."  (For those not familiar with that kind of terminology, I was, at that time, a licensed minister and in seminary studying to be a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene.  The Church of the Nazarene was born in the "Holiness Movement" within Methodism and is the largest of the Wesleyan-holiness denominations.)

Several years have come and gone since that day.  I am now pastoring Centenary United Methodist Church in New Albany, IN.  (My elders orders are still in the Church of the Nazarene.)  And my wife is still married to "a holiness preacher."

There is much more to preaching "holiness" than just focusing on the doctrine and experience of Entire Sanctification or Christian Perfection.  Nevertheless, that is an important aspect of it.  And this past Sunday, the lectionary passage for the Gospel provided a great opportunity to preach on that very subject. The passage comes from Matthew 5:43-48, which ends with Jesus saying, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

This is one of my favorite "holiness passages" to preach from.  (It is actually the text that I preached from when I won the Corlett Holiness Sermon Award as a Senior at Nazarene Theological Seminary, way back in 1994.)

To go along with the sermon, we opened with (and then included, again, after the sermon with the Prayers of the People) the Collect of Purity:  "Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name, through Christ our Lord.  Amen."

That prayer truly encapselates the "holiness message."  In fact, I believe it was P.F. Bresee (the primary founder of the Church of the Nazarene) who once said to some Episcopalians (something like), "Why do you consider it strange that we, Nazarenes, claim that God actually hears and answers the prayer that you pray every Sunday?"

We also sang Charles Wesley's, "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" and a chorus titled, "A Perfect Heart."  We concluded with Wesley's, "Jesus Thine All-victorious Love," and St. Paul's benediction in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

My sermon title was, "Nobody's Perfect . . . Are They?"  For those interested, you can listen to it at our church's website, here.

(Let me say that, when I first start, a person in the congregation corrects me on the particular movie that I am about to reference.  Also, we had a problem with the microphone in the midst of the sermon.  I do not know if that caused a problem in the recording.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

UM Bishops React to Retired Bishops

While I'm quite happy to move on from this issue, I think it only appropriate to make note that some current United Methodist bishops have reacted to the statement made by the 33 retired bishops.  Except on one point, they seem to be all over the map.  That one point is the claim that they are all committed to respect the statement of the Discipline. 

The report of the United Methodist News Service can be read, here.

(For those who may be interested, the article did not indicate any response from my bishop.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Praise God for the Spread of the Gospel in Africa!

Nazarene Communications Network as reported that the African Region of the Church of the Nazarene, under the leadership of Regional Director, the Rev'd. Dr. Filimao Chambo, has now surpassed the half million mark in membership!

With 511,373 members, the African Region is closing in on the church in the United States (and will likely pass it before too long).  Praise be to God for the lives being transformed through the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wesleyan Core Term: Superintendency

One of the things that I love about pastoring at Centenary United Methodist Church is being able to use "Calvary Chapel" for Morning Prayer.  Praying Morning Prayer from Wesley's The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America is a part of my commitment to the Order of Saint Luke, and a part of my regular devotional practice.

Whereas during the last couple of years I have read Scripture based on the daily reading lectionary passages as found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, for 2011 I have gone back to the practice of reading through the entire Bible during the year.  I have modified the way that I'm doing it so as to include Old Testament, Psalm, and New Testament readings each time, in order to go along with the practice as found in the Prayer Book.  (I don't know quite what I'll do, once I make it through the New Testament, but I plan to re-read the Psalms throughout the year.)

This year I am reading using the NRSV, once again.  (I've used several other versions in the past).  The unique thing is that I'm using my The Wesley Study Bible this time.  And, while I'm not reading all of the notes, I am making it a practice to read each of the "Wesleyan Core Term" and "Life Application Topic" sections as I go along.

In my reading, today, I read a "Wesleyan Core Term" section that I think may go well with my previous post about the statement from the 33 United Methodist bishops.  -  The core term is "Superintendency," and the relevant part said:

"In Num 3, the Lord tells Moses to set aside the Levites as the Lord's, as an offering for the firstborn of all of Israel.  They will serve the Lord at the tabernacle and before all the people.  In the same way, the bishop must be the Lord's servant before all the people.  Without submission to the Lord, the powers of the bishop are just human power. . . if God is not the head, then the bishop cannot lead the church." (italics mine.)

By this post, I do not mean to question whether any of the 33 bishops desire to serve God.  God alone knows each of our hearts.  However, it is clear that one's commitment to serve God must include submission to God and to the Word of God.  Additionally, one who takes up the role of the superintendency/episcopacy is especially called upon to "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.  For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." (Jude 3-4).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

33 Retired United Methodist Bishops Urge Denomination to Remove It's Ban on Homosexual Clergy

The United Methodist News Service has just reported that 33 retired UM bishops have issued "A Statement of Counsel to the Church."  This statement urges the denomination to remove from its Book of Discipline the statement that says:

"…The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church." ¶304.3

Such a change would have to take place at the General Conference level.  The next General Conference will take place in 2012.  This issue has come up at every General Conference for decades, now, but it is important to note that at each Conference the United Methodist Church has remained firm in their stand for continuity with Scripture and the teaching of the Church catholic for over 2000 years.  The current position of the United Methodist Church, while not being on the same page with certain other mainline American denominations (e.g., The Episcopal Church and The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), is on the same page with the vast majority of Christian churches throughout the world.  (In other words, it is denominations such as TEC and the ELCA that are out of step with the rest of the Church.)

While this issue is raised at every General Conference, this may be the first time that such a "Statement of Counsel" has been issued by such a large number of retired bishops.  (That is, I do not know if this has happened before, but I am not aware that it has.)

The United Methodist Church, along with all Christian churches, is called to show forth the love of God in Christ for all people.  Part of showing forth that love is proclaiming the great good news that we can be forgiven and transformed by God's grace.

The full statement can be read, here.