A Needed Pause – Round 2

PauseRecently, I wrote a post about the General Conference decision to take a “pause” on decisions regarding the language in our Discipline concerning human sexuality. I know that there are many that are pained in one way or another about this pause. However, I for one am able to breathe again, for two reasons.

First, a parishioner passed this little tidbit on to me yesterday concerning the idea of taking a pause.

 

Practice the pause.
When in doubt, pause.
When angry, pause.
When tired, pause.
When stressed, pause.
And whenever you pause – Pray!

Great words of advice for any of us but especially for the “group thinks” that make up my beloved UMC right now. Pause. Pray. Pray some more while we pause.

The second reason that I like this period of pause is that it will allow us to become very intentional about the conversations that we have with one another. Already, I have been disappointed to see some unusually smug words about “victories” at General Conference. However, I don’t see how talking about the decline of the United Methodist Women could ever be considered a “victory.”  Still others are talking about the schism of the United Methodist Church as if it is a done deal and we are just waiting for the pieces to fall into place. And yet still others are posturing in such a way as to try and force our episcopal leaders into a particular path that they see as absolutely necessary. And of course, we have those who are in hired positions of authority telling us that we should ignore the duly elected and consecrated authorities we have in our denomination and come join them for a gathering that is not a new church (wink, wink) just a gathering of good Wesleyan believers. (Granted Rev. Tennant wrote an apology for this post, the apology is limited to those bishops Tennant finds “faithful”.  I also did not see him take away the invitation to join that event which isn’t an attempt to start a new denomination. That phrase is just, oh, so Wesleyan, you must love it!) There is plenty of blame to go around. Plenty.

I am not one who typically thinks of himself as a scholar on John Wesley. I am not even absolutely sure that there should be anything known as Wesleyan Theology especially given the fact that Wesley himself wasn’t to fond of describing the people of the Methodist Societies as anything other than Christians. Furthermore, I think it is absolute laziness on our part to back up 200+ years and stop at a theologian for our current understandings. He never did that. He learned from early Christians, the tradition as it developed and what he was experiencing around him while he read Scripture and tested all things with God’s Word. It’s pure laziness to think that Rev. John Wesley was any more holy than we should strive to be or any more intelligent in matters of theology for that matter. Lazy.

However, I have got to admit, I get lazy at times too and lean upon and learn from this great leader in the Anglican Church. (Nah, he never became a Methodist. He left that up to Asbury and Coke, but that’s another story and another line of thought that is just going to upset a few people.) I also enjoy learning from Rev. Wesley. Especially in these days of heated debate about religion and the practice thereof.

According to Richard Heitzenrater (be warned, he’s a more modern historian than Wesley) and Albert C. Outler (God forgive me, I’m pulling out all the stops here) Rev. Wesley wrote a sermon on Mark 9:38-39 that is especially timely for our day. In their introduction to said sermon they write, “Part of the price of peace in eighteenth-century Britain, after the bitter quarrels of Civil War and Restoration, was a general lessening of partisan zeal and bigotry. The main concern of all, in both church and civil state, was surcease from religious turmoil. It was, therefore, inevitable that the Methodist Revival should revive fear of new religious disruptions;” Heitzenrater and Outler go on to say, “In much the same way that the Methodists had come by the lable ‘enthusiasts’, they also had come to be regarded as ‘bigots’ in the current general sense of ‘excessive or irrational zealots’…In this sermon (‘A Caution Against Bigotry’) Wesley studiously avoids an apologetic stance…In effect, he gives a positive, if also indirect, plea for a carefully considered religious pluralism both in theology and praxis.” (Heitzenrater and Outler, John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, page 287, emphasis addded.)

I’m not asking you to bow to Wesley or rip your robes in repentance as you read some of what he wrote here, but I do hope you hear some prophetic utterances for our day and time. Look at these excerpts from “A Caution Against Bigotry” as we take this time to pause within our own denomination and see if they have anything to say to us during this pause. You may read the whole sermon, here. Below is what I found especially interesting.

3. Perhaps more nearly than is commonly imagined; the case proposed being no uncommon case. That we may reap our full advantage from it, I design to show, first, in what sense men may, and do, now cast out devils: secondly, what we may understand by, “He followeth not us.” I shall, thirdly, explain our Lord’s direction, “Forbid him not;” and conclude with an inference from the whole…

3. It is, therefore, an unquestionable truth, that the god and prince of this world still possesses all who know not God. Only the manner wherein he possesses them now differs from that wherein he did it of old time. Then he frequently tormented their bodies as well as souls, and that openly, without any disguise: now he torments their souls only (unless in some rare cases), and that as covertly as possible. The reason of this difference is plain: it was then his aim to drive mankind into superstition; therefore, he wrought as openly as he could. But it is his aim to drive us into infidelity; therefore, he works as privately as he can: for the more secret he is, the more he prevails.

It would appear to me that in Wesley’s analysis of demon possession in the Bible and in his time, he allowed for a difference not just explained by science or critical analysis of the Scripture, but also allowing for what “evil” wished to accomplish in our world. This has powerful implications if we think about evil at work to destroy many Protestant denominations, including our own, by allowing “bigotry on both sides of theological debates” to tear us apart.

I could go on with other powerful sections of this sermon and I once again encourage you to grab both the coffee and courage needed to read it all and do so.

Eventually, Rev. Wesley turns to what makes this man casting out demons “different” than “the disciples.”

3. That expression may mean, Thirdly, –he differs from us in our religious opinions. There was a time when all Christians were of one mind, as well as of one heart, so great grace was upon them all, when they were first filled with the Holy Ghost! But how short a space did this blessing continue! How soon was that unanimity lost! and difference of opinion sprang up again, even in the church of Christ, –and that not in nominal but in real Christians; nay, in the very chief of them, the Apostles themselves! Nor does it appear that the difference which then began was ever entirely removed. We do not find that even those pillars in the temple of God, so long as they remained upon the earth, were ever brought to think alike, to be of one mind, particularly with regard to the ceremonial law. It is therefore no way surprising, that infinite varieties of opinion should now be found in the Christian church. A very probable consequence of this is, that whenever we see any “casting out devils,” he will be one that, in this sense, “followeth not us” –that is not of our opinion. It is scarce to be imagined he will be of our mind in all points, even of religion. He may very probably think in a different manner from us, even on several subjects of importance; such as the nature and use of the moral law, the eternal decrees of God, the sufficiency and efficacy of his grace, and the perseverance of his children.

4. He may differ from us, Fourthly, not only in opinion, but likewise in some point of practice. He may not approve of that manner of worshipping God which is practised in our congregation; and may judge that to be more profitable for his soul which took its rise from Calvin or Martin Luther. He may have many objections to that Liturgy which we approve of beyond all others; many doubts concerning that form of church government which we esteem both apostolical and scriptural. Perhaps he may go farther from us yet: he may, from a principle of conscience, refrain from several of those which we believe to be the ordinances of Christ. Or, if we both agree that they are ordained of God, there may still remain a difference between us, either as to the manner of administering those ordinances, or the persons to whom they should be administered. Now the unavoidable consequence of any of these differences will be, that he who thus differs from us must separate himself, with regard to those points, from our society. In this respect, therefore, “he followeth not us”: he is not (as we phrase it) “of our Church.”

5. But in a far stronger sense “he followeth not us,” who is not only of a different Church, but of such a Church as we account to be in many respects anti-scriptural and anti-Christian, –a Church which we believe to be utterly false and erroneous in her doctrines, as well as very dangerously wrong in her practice; guilty of gross superstition as well as idolatry, –a Church that has added many articles to the faith which was once delivered to the saints; that has dropped one whole commandment of God, and made void several of the rest by her traditions; and that, pretending the highest veneration for, and strictest conformity to, the ancient Church, has nevertheless brought in numberless innovations, without any warrant either from antiquity or Scripture. Now, most certainly, “he followeth not us,” who stands at so great a distance from us.

6. And yet there may be a still wider difference than this. He who differs from us in judgement or practice, may possibly stand at a greater distance from us in affection than in judgement. And this indeed is a very natural and a very common effect of the other. The differences which begin in points of opinion seldom terminate there. They generally spread into the affections, and then separate chief friends. Nor are any animosities so deep and irreconcilable as those that spring from disagreement in religion. For this cause the bitterest enemies of a man are those of his own household. For this the father rises against his own children, and the children against the father; and perhaps persecute each other even to the death, thinking all the time they are doing God service. It is therefore nothing more than we may expect, if those who differ from us, either in religious opinions or practice, soon contract a sharpness, yea, bitterness towards us; if they are more and more prejudiced against us, till they conceive as ill an opinion of our persons as of our principles. An almost necessary consequence of this will be, they will speak in the same manner as they think of us. They will set themselves in opposition to us, and, as far as they are able, hinder our work; seeing it does not appear to them to be the work of God, but either of man or of the devil. He that thinks, speaks, and acts in such a manner as this, in the highest sense, “followeth not us.”

There’s a lot there. I know. Read it and let it sink in. Rev. Wesley knew that Christians could disagree to the point that they might not even see each other as Christians. Wow. And he had to warn the early Methodist Societies of this? I would have figured it would take a hundred years or so for that kind of certain thinking to take root, but alas, these words were not originally for us.

How does Wesley say we should treat those who have obvious fruits of the Spirit working in them but are so different from us in either theology or praxis?

IV. 1. If we willingly fail in any of these points, if we either directly or indirectly forbid him, “because he followeth not us,” then we are bigots. This is the inference I draw from what has been said. But the term “bigotry,” I fear, as frequently as it is used, is almost as little understood as “enthusiasm.” It is too strong an attachment to, or fondness for, our own party. opinion, church, and religion. Therefore he is a bigot who is so fond of any of these, so strongly attached to them, as to forbid any who casts out devils because he differs from himself in any or all these particulars.

2. Do you beware of this. Take care (1) That you do not convict yourself of bigotry, by your unreadiness to believe that any man does cast out devils, who differs from you. And if you are clear thus far, if you acknowledge the fact, then examine yourself, (2) Am I not convicted of bigotry in this, in forbidding him directly or indirectly Do I not directly forbid him on this ground, because he is not of my party, because he does not fall in with my opinions, or because he does not worship God according to that scheme of religion which I have received from my fathers

3. Examine yourself, Do I not indirectly at least forbid him, on any of these grounds Am I not sorry that God should thus own and bless a man that holds such erroneous opinions Do I not discourage him, because he is not of my Church, by disputing with him concerning it, by raising objections, and by perplexing his mind with distant consequences Do I show no anger, contempt, or unkindness of any sort, either in my words or actions Do I not mention behind his back, his (real or supposed) faults –his defects or infirmities Do not I hinder sinners from hearing his word If you do any of these things, you are a bigot to this day.

4. “Search me, O Lord, and prove me. Try out my reins and my heart! Look well if there be any way of” bigotry “in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” In order to examine ourselves thoroughly, let the case be proposed in the strongest manner. What, if I were to see a Papist, an Arian, a Socinian casting out devils If I did, I could not forbid even him, without convicting myself of bigotry. Yea, if it could be supposed that I should see a Jew, a Deist, or a Turk, doing the same, were I to forbid him either directly or indirectly, I should be no better than a bigot still.

5. O stand clear of this! But be not content with not forbidding any that casts out devils. It is well to go thus far; but do not stop here. If you will avoid all bigotry, go on. In every instance of this kind, whatever the instrument be, acknowledge the finger of God. And not only acknowledge, but rejoice in his work, and praise his name with thanksgiving. Encourage whomsoever God is pleased to employ, to give himself wholly up thereto. Speak well of him wheresoever you are; defend his character and his mission. Enlarge, as far as you can, his sphere of action; show him all kindness in word and deed; and cease not to cry to God in his behalf, that he may save both himself and them that hear him.

6. I need add but one caution: Think not the bigotry of another is any excuse for your own. It is not impossible, that one who casts out devils himself, may yet forbid you so to do. You may observe, this is the very case mentioned in the text. The Apostles forbade another to do what they did themselves. But beware of retorting. It is not your part to return evil for evil. Another’s not observing the direction of our Lord, is no reason why you should neglect it. Nay, but let him have all the bigotry to himself. If he forbid you, do not you forbid him. Rather labour, and watch, and pray the more, to confirm your love toward him. If he speak all manner of evil of you, speak all manner of good (that is true) of him. Imitate herein that glorious saying of a great man (O that he had always breathed the same spirit!), “Let Luther call me a hundred devils; I will still reverence him as a messenger of God.”

Edited anonymously at the Memorial University of Newfoundland with corrections by Ryan Danker and George Lyons of Northwest Nazarene University (Nampa, Idaho) for the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.

Copyright 1999 by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology. Text may be freely used for personal or scholarly purposes or mirrored on other web sites, provided this notice is left intact. Any use of this material for commercial purposes of any kind is strictly forbidden without the express permission of the Wesley Center at Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, ID 83686. Contact the webmaster for permission.

I think I will just leave it there. Right there for us to think about as we enter this pause provided by our General Conference. And during this Pausepause, I for one will be praying that none of us would continue or start any new bigotry in the name of Jesus.

Ask Almost Anything (Leftovers…)

Over the course of receiving questions in our three week series of “Ask Almost Anything’ – a series where this preacher took anonymous text messages and emails from people in the congregation and community and answered them during Sunday worship – many topics came up.  Some of them came up  more than once.

During the first week, I received a question concerning “dinosaurs and creation.”  I tried to answer it broad enough to cover most of the questions that arise when science and the creation stories or other Biblical pericopes (stories that stand on their own within the Biblical text) seem to come at odds with one another.  However the following question was sent in at the end of both that first week and during the third week.

  1. When God created Neanderthals did he create them as animals or humans?

So, I think I wiIMBR-00228365-001ll revisit the topic a little.

It is important to remember that when we read the book of Genesis it is difficult to tell exactly how creation took place.  In Genesis 1:1 through 2:4a, we have one story of Creation:

1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.adam-eve

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.

(Keep in mind that any chapter and verse divisions that appear in our Bibles are actually a MUCH later addition to the original manuscripts.  Because of this it is very apparent that verse one of Chapter Two is the ending to the story found in Chapter One.)

This story – the story of the Creation of the world in “six days” with “rest” proclaimed for the seventh, holy, Sabbath day is probably be the best known of the two Creation stories in Genesis and is the one that follows a “day by day” account of Creation.  It is “ordered” in such a way that many people have memorized what was created on each day and the Creation was not complete until the first man and first woman were created.

We know without a doubt that a second story about Creation is coming in the second half of verse four of Chapter two where it says: “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground…”  The language is clear.  Creation had not yet begun in this story.  Some very well meaning folks will attempt to say that Chapter two is just an “explanation” of the Creation story found in Chapter One, but a clear easy reading of the chapters just will not allow that assumption.  Look at the rest of the second Creation story:

 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”

It cannot be an explanation of the first story for the “order” of Creation is totally and completely different.  In story One, humankind is created last.  In story Two, man is created, then animals and finally woman.  They just don’t fit together.

So?  What does it mean for us to have two basically contradictory stories about Creation in the opening chapters of our Bible.

It really is not all that complex…We just don’t know exactly how God went about creating the heavens and the earth.  What we do know is equally simple to point out – God created them.

The next question we have to ask is “where does the Neanderthal” fit in either one of these stories.  We cannot dismiss their existence – we have found proof that they not only were on earth but that they also formed communities, hunted and even had “religion” in their life – burial ceremonies and artifacts point to worship of some kind.  The Neanderthals were real.

However, the Bible’s Creation stories make absolutely no mention of them, so there is no real way for us to know if the Neanderthal was “human” or “animal.”  We simply know that for some reason that is not covered by the Bible, the Neanderthal was “created” by God.

At times, we want Scripture to either explain science or vice versa.  Neither of these is being true to what the other is supposed to do.  Scripture is revelation of God given to us through human beings who are sometimes centuries removed from the events that took place.  Science is the observation of the world around us.  There is a lot of mystery between the two.

It is important, I think, not to allow scientific explanation to “take away” from the mystery of God’s creative power.  I also think it is equally important not to allow religious belief to dismiss science as untrue.  We can no longer deny scientific observations any more than we can stop breathing.  Those observations are there and we must deal with them.

The fact is that our Creation accounts make no mention of “Neanderthals.”  (Sure…some could speculate that this group is another part of God’s creation that may have provided spouses for the children of the first man and the first woman – but the Bible doesn’t say that either…It would be pure speculation on our part.

What we can be sure of is this…God created the Neanderthal (and any other sub-specie we may find and identify).  The Bible does not tell us whether they are human or animal, so we are left to make up our own mind given the great intellect that God has given us.

So, don’t let those seeming contradictions between religion and science throw you!  God created.  We observe.  We attempt to understand.  In those attempts we must be careful to hold onto what Jesus told us to do with one another – love each other – even in the face of disagreement.

Did God make the Neanderthal?  Yep.  Did God make the Neanderthal as an animal?  We don’t know.  Did God make the Neanderthal as a human?  Once more we don’t know.  God creates…that is all we know from these stories.

(Oh…that and the fact that even God took time off from Creation AND that the creation of humankind was never complete until both male and female were created…but that is probably a different question!)

Contentment

This week, I began I three week series on stewardship that borrows heavily from the teachings of Adam Hamilton in Enough.  I don’t do Hamilton justice, IMHO, but I am making the message relevant for where I am and where I think our congregation is at this particular time.

Enjoy…and feel free to comment!