"This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
I have been troubled lately. Somehow I now receive the email on Facebook from a group called United Methodists for Covenantal Orthodoxy. As a United Methodist pastor who for many years struggled with “The Word rightly preached,” the very word Orthodox is bothersome. It implies true religion or faith, and those who claim to be orthodox have set themselves apart from the rest of us, and usually there is a judgmental response:
“You do it your way, we will do it God’s way
.” (Are they teaching that course in seminary these days?) Some members of this group claim a wisdom that the rest of us do not have. I suspect it has more to do with biology than theology — or having “correct” sexuality.
Rather than get into the Orthodox fight, or the pure religion struggle, I thought I might suggest some word to give comfort and assurance to those of us unorthodox who bumble along, doing our best to be faithful.
We might begin with another word from Hebrews: “Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today, forever.” The mission of the Church is to seek an unchanging purpose in an ever changing world. A verse from Wesley’s hymn comes to mind, “to serve the present age our calling to fulfill.” What remains the same in an ever changing world? Obviously we are worlds apart from the 18th century of John Wesley. And not to recognize this, to use the language of an old hymn,
“makes certain belief uncouth
For example: We no longer stone our children if they disobey, even if a reading of Leviticus does allow such parental behavior; nor do we insist that women should wear hats in church and be quiet. Paul tells us that love is patient and kind and does not insist on having it’s own way. This word seems to point toward the practice of the art of compromise. Some would argue that compromise is a sell-out to the real thing.
But the choices we make are seldom simply to decide between good and evil. There is also good and better — the making of a compromise that does the least amount of harm in a troubled world. We might call such a struggle as going on to perfection — or to be made perfect in love. This kind of language works as long as we remember the best translation for this use of perfection is
Could it be that the search for a “new orthodoxy” (paradoxical statement) has something to do with our using tradition simple to prove one’s point?
is the living faith of the dead — a democracy of the dead or how the saints speak to us.
is the dead faith of the living, the locking in of a word once spoken as literal truth for all times and places, or getting stuck in time.
Wesley’s great hymn “To Serve the Present Age” is something of a road map for those who are truly seeking.
In our search for the way, we will not get it right or perfect. But neither did those who were close to Jesus. I find comfort in Paul’s confession that he was untimely born, yet this did not prevent his knowing Jesus and his love. Each of us is untimely born — but not a second-hand rose.
The watchword for the faithful is
. Again and again Jesus points to loving one’s neighbor as we love ourselves. Love for enemies too, even those with whom we disagree. There can be no selective brotherhood or sisterhood within the Body of Christ, the Church. Nor are we called to be “birds of a feather.” Know this and take it as a rule that whenever we isolate a group of folks, turn them into social lepers, we have just lost Jesus, because he will go and stand with the isolated, and the sinned against.
The last time I looked, I discovered that Jesus was crucified outside the orthodox camp on a dung heap with those who had been cast out as unclean. Here is the new deal: Rather than spending our time trying to decide who is clean enough to be with Jesus, I would suggest that new pastors intent on getting their theology and doctrine right, set aside Facebook for a season, and get out there and visit the folks. If we do as Father Wesley admonished, “Will you visit door to door?” and we promised, “Yes, we will,” we might just discover a new kind of wisdom that makes all of this “who-has-it-right judgment calls”
Anyhow, what do I know, and why should I care regarding the current spat over who is clean enough theologically or biologically to be included within the body of Christ? I still say often, that I could be wrong, a most unorthodox statement. Lord Have Mercy!
Dear God, arm us with jealous care, as in thy sight to live...