Politics, worship, Pelagius and Disney World: On General Conference 2016

June 29th, 2015

As many sisters and brothers in the United Methodist part of Christ's church finish meeting in their respective Annual Conferences, thoughts are turning, in part, to the upcoming 2016 General Conference.

How will the divisive issues play out? What will happen, and what viewpoints will win the day?

Those questions, badly stated, are of secondary importance. Our agenda at GC16 should be to exalt our Savior Jesus Christ in our fellowship together. I hope this will take place, first of all, in our worship services together.

None of us is immune from the temptation to place our concerns over the worship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who has given us life, truth, peace, and everything in Jesus Christ. I am certainly not. I have sometimes presided at prayers and realized at the end of a prayer that I was thinking about myself or my own concerns or how another person is wrong (but I'm of course categorically right) rather than attending to the worship of Jesus Christ.

But if we place the agendas of factions above the worship of Jesus Christ, it is all the more likely that our worship will become an ironic celebration of ourselves rather than of Jesus Christ's glory. And this is a danger. Perhaps you have noticed that we fallen humans have a strong tendency to celebrate ourselves to the expense of all else, precisely at the moments when doing so is least warranted.

Worship that goes wrong in this way can look, in the characterization of the dean of one United Methodist seminary, like "Pelagianism" meets "Disney World." Pelagianism is a heresy Augustine opposed. Picture a group of people using god-talk to celebrate their achievements while using props in front of a large screen playing "Fantasia" and you get the idea of what the dean is after.

Let us pray for something better than that at GC 2016. I pray we talk most of all about the love of the Father who sent the Son to die on a cross, rise glorious and give the inestimable and infinite gift of the Spirit.

It also couldn't hurt if those planning and presiding at worship keep in mind the best liturgical advice ever.

Here's the thing. None of us knows the will of God for the UMC. That is partly why we gather to pray and deliberate and discern at GC in the first place. None of us knows what will happen.

Yet our ignorance on this score isn't a bad thing. None of us knows when we will die. The same is true of individual branches, leaves and fruits on the Israel-Church vine. This ignorance is itself another opportunity to focus on, worship and exalt Jesus Christ our Savior, the only Savior of the world. If 2016, 2040, 2104, or 3535 ("3535 is unlikely." -Ed.) or any other were to be the last UM General Conference — or whenever it is — I hope we spend it exalting Jesus Christ as Lord, and not ourselves.

"Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory" (Psalm 115:1 NRSV).

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