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November 18, 2005

Christian Unity: Imperatives and New Commitments

I was drawn to a book that has been on my shelf since my arrival in the Holston Conference in September of last year. The book is entitled "Vision and Supervision: A Sourcebook of Significant Documents of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church, 1968-2002". Bishop William R. Cannon wrote a paper that is included in this book that was adopted March 30, 1978 with the title "Christian Unity: Imperatives and New Commitments. In his section entitled, "Division in the Church he writes, "From the beginning of its existence the church has struggled with divided loyalties, diverse interpretations of doctrine, competing concepts of mission, prideful use of God's gifts, tensions of authority and wanton unfaithfulness. It has fallen into schisms and polemic fragments; it has broken both the bonds of peace and the visible community of faith. Through introversion and self-justification, through centuries of isolation of one part of the family of God from other parts and through competing claims in mission, the church has been weakened and evangelism has been compromised and even nullified." It is apparent that in 1978 Bishop Cannon was deeply troubled by the division in the Church and how the arguments among ourselves so often were so loud and filled with such dark clouds that unbelievers could never hear the gospel or see the message of Christ.

He goes on to say "Christians have not been ready in word and deed to give sufficient persuasive reason for the hope that they affirmed. Called to faithfully address the world, the church's internal life reflected conflicting standards related to justice, love, and servanthood. Class division, racism, sexism, ethnic arrogance, and ecclesiastical imperialism distorted doctrine and life. The politics of the church sometimes accommodated to the politics of society. Worldly loyalties entered the church, robbed it of unity, and obscured the gospel's message of righteousness, healing, mercy, and reconciliation."

I too am troubled by a world and even the church where people are always angry. I am troubled that many are so committed to their position and their group that we will destroy the gospel message by using ungodly tactics to win our arguments. We will distort the truth, we will assassinate each other's character and personhood, and we will do this all in the name of winning. The unbelieving world is watching not only what we say but how we say what we say. The unbelieving world is watching how we speak or do not speak to each other. The unbelieving world is more concerned with how we live with each other than what we say.

And even though Bishop Cannon is addressing in his paper Ecumenism, I believe it is an appropriate address to the current division within our beloved United Methodist Church. And so Bishop Cannon sums this up by quoting from John Wesley's sermon, "The Catholic Spirit."

"But while he is steadily fixed in his religious principles, in what he believes to be truth as it is in Jesus; while he firmly adheres to that worship of God which he judges to be more acceptable in His sight; and while he is united by the tenderest and closest ties to one particular congregation (position), — his heart is enlarged toward all mankind, those he knows and those he does not; he embraces with friends and enemies. This is catholic or universal love. And he that has this is of a catholic spirit."
So let us hold fast our principles but let us do so in love or we run the risk of damaging the gospel.

Posted by Bishop at 04:12 PM | Comments (4)