Between the Bible and The UMC, where's Christ?

April 28th, 2016

In a recent article, Adam Hamilton says, “No issue will be more closely watched than the debate and decisions of the Conference regarding gay and lesbian people.” He goes on to say that beneath the concerns of The United Methodist Church is a more fundamental question, namely, what do we as United Methodists believe about the Bible and its authority and guidance for daily living?

Sadly, this is true. “Sadly,” you say, “That’s an odd word choice.” But it is sad and also unfortunate to believe this is the “real” question, despite the fact that many of us are woefully ignorant about what the Bible says, its context, and its intent. And it is misguided to think that our view of the Bible is the root concern. It’s not the Bible or its authority or our understanding and interpretation of the Bible. Rather, we need to look at the Ultimate Concern, the Who speaking the Word behind the Bible’s words — God.

At issue is not the Bible, but how God works and moves within us, between us, and in us as individuals and as a church, which, lest we forget, was instituted by Christ and belongs to the Triune God. Perhaps we need to be reminded how Christianity is different from all other religions. In all other religions people build scaffolds and ladders to reach God. They might even use the famous quadrilateral: reason, experience, tradition and, yes, scripture. Christianity is different because through the person of Jesus Christ, God comes to us. We can never do enough, be smart enough or believe enough to reach God. God presence with us does not depend on our understanding of the Bible, our adherence to doctrine, or our social and political skills. Where God is present is up to God alone, but God promises to be present when two or more are gathered in God’s name. While God does speak to us through the Bible, God is not bound by the Bible or our fractured understandings of it. We do not worship the Bible, we worship a living God — a God who situates us as individuals and as a church, always and uncomfortably, between the now and not-yet.

So what does all this have to do with our upcoming General Conference? Because there is no doubt that we are praying and seeking God’s will. But what if God’s will is for us to go forward into a divided world with serious unresolved divisions between us as a church? Perhaps we are called to witness living together and loving each other despite our incompatible theologies, experiences and convictions. Just as Christ is a Wounded Healer, perhaps God’s Church is an incarnation of the Wounded Body of Christ offering grace and hope — salvation — to the world. Perhaps at this point in time God is calling The United Methodist Church to occupy the extreme center of faith as a divided and humbled people who cannot unite themselves, meaning that we are utterly dependent on God for our life and being. That is our witness.

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