by Dr. Bill Bouknight
Rarely does one hear a United Methodist preacher suggest that anyone needs to be saved, especially if that salvation has eternal implications. Most United Methodist pastors try to “save” people from poverty, ignorance, prejudice, bad habits, and fundamentalism. But seldom does one hear the biblical message that all persons come into the world with a “sin heritage.” Seldom does one hear that there is only one cure for this spiritual disease (Acts 4:12), and that unless the cure is found, that person is at risk of spending eternity in a horrible place where God is altogether absent. The word “hell” has almost been banished from the United Methodist dictionary. Indeed, the official Confirmation resource of The United Methodist Church never mentions that four-letter word. The authors must have concluded either that there is no such place/condition as hell or that 12 or 13-year-olds are not capable of handling this concept.
Many United Methodist pastors focus on this world to the exclusion of eternity. At the 2008, General Conference the official mission statement of the denomination was amended, adding a final phrase–“for the transformation of the world.” Our mission now is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” But that same General Conference, by a vote of 690 to 193, refused to add this phrase to our mission statement: “For the salvation of souls.”
Which is more important? The transformation of this world (that the letter of Second Peter tells us will go up in flames) or saving eternal souls?
John Wesley worked toward both goals, but he clearly knew which was the higher calling. Indeed, he once told his preachers that they had nothing to do “but save souls.” The original requirement for entering Methodist societies was a desire “to flee the wrath to come.” That wrath surely had eternal implications.
The United Methodist Church has as one of its fundamental doctrines the following: “We believe all men stand under the righteous judgment of Jesus Christ, both now and in the last day. We believe in the resurrection of the dead; the righteous to life eternal and the wicked to endless condemnation.” (Article XII, The Confession of Faith)
Jesus talked more about heaven and hell than did any other person in the New Testament. Here are several of Jesus’ statements about hell: “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mathew 8:41-42) “Then he (the King) will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'” (Matthew 25:41)
St. Paul made it clear that if our only business was the transformation of this world, we should just shut down the whole Christian enterprise. He wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (I Corinthians 15:19)
The United Methodist Church has declined for at least the past 50 years. Could it be that God is not blessing our denomination because too many of us have forsaken the cross-centered gospel? If God sent his Son to die on a cruel cross because that atoning sacrifice was necessary in order for any of us to have eternal life, then what would God think about a preacher or a denomination that distorted or de-emphasized or discarded that path to salvation?
Could it be that God would renew his blessings on The United Methodist Church (as in the days of Wesley and Asbury) if its leaders reaffirm the gospel declared by our founders? Just imagine if the majority of United Methodist preachers would teach that all persons outside a relationship with Jesus Christ are at risk of spending all eternity apart from God. Just imagine if those preachers would present the cross as God’s atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world. Just imagine if those preachers would invite all persons to confess their sin and to trust that on the cross Jesus paid the penalty for their sin. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Cor. 5:21)
Just imagine if those preachers would call people to personally claim that sacrifice by faith and then in gratitude invite the living Christ-Spirit to be the supreme commander of their lives. Just suppose that those preachers would then assure their hearers that upon taking that faith-stance, their eternal souls would be saved and the Holy Spirit would take up residence in their minds and hearts, helping them become new people, with new perceptions, values, world view, joy, and peace.
Lots of people would respond to that challenge and invitation. The Holy Spirit might once again bless The United Methodist Church with vitality and growth! And lots of twice-born people might have a passion for sharing with others the good news of salvation, both in this life and the next!
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