It was in the late-sixties that I became aware of the liberal bent of many leaders in the UMC. I was in my late teens; I had just come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ myself, and at that time I was on “their side”. I thought it was the right way to think. We needed to get this supernatural thinking out of the church and get into realism, where we belonged. After all, nobody really believed all that stuff in the Bible, did they? I mean, come on. It’s the 1960s. We’re much more sophisticated nowadays.
Needless to say, my thinking changed as the years went by. I found a living faith as I sought to follow the Lord.
In the 1990s I started becoming very frustrated with the unbelieving liberals who held the power in the UMC, and sought to do whatever I could to get them out of power. (Obviously I couldn’t do much, as they’re still there.) In the late 90s I discovered computers and the internet as an avenue where I could possibly express my views and find other like-minded people. I also encountered many like-minded United Methodists, many of whom had left the UMC, or were in the process of leaving. It became almost the “in” thing to leave the UMC for what were perceived to be greener pastures.
It was being said that “God has given up on the UMC. It is an apostate church, and God is calling all true believers out of it.” And I watched many of my friends leave. I saw people in my local church leave. And I even tried to leave at one time. But you know, after a few months I felt God gently calling me back; gently, because He knew he didn’t have to whop me over the head with a 2X4 to get my attention on this.
We saw big fights going on every four years at the General Conferences, and big fights going on every year in Annual Conferences, and people were getting hurt, and people were leaving. And still, through it all, there were good folk who thought as I did, yet they stayed.
We have taken encouragement as well, that through the years our position has actually grown stronger as every General Conference came and went. And then we are told that our position is merely the law on the books, and the rebellious people who break those laws will just continue to do so, because the law has no teeth. The church isn’t going to enforce those laws. And so, because of that, we need to leave.
And still we stay.
We have seen the UMC likened to the sinking Titanic. We are told that what we are doing is merely rearranging the deck chairs, and the ship is going to sink anyway.
And still we stay.
And still they say, “God has given up on the UMC. Come out before it takes you down with it.”
And so it has been on my mind. Has God really given up on the United Methodist Church?
I think I am finally coming up with the answer, and it’s an emphatic NO!
God is still working in and through the UMC to change lives and make for Himself a holy people. People really are being saved in the UMC! It wasn’t too long ago that I didn’t think that happened, but I have seen it with my own eyes. I see the Holy Spirit working powerfully in United Methodist churches, congregations and individuals alike. He even works in the Annual Conferences, in the General Conferences, in the general boards and agencies, sometimes working with the UMC and sometimes in spite of the UMC!
You see, the UMC is basically a human institution. Yes we consider it a church of Jesus Christ, but God, in His infinite wisdom, has chosen to let us stumble along within the church in our humanness. That means that while we have God’s Word, and we pray and worship Him, we are still in a fallen state of sin. We still live in this body of flesh. We can be nothing but far from perfect, yet God chooses to work in and through us in this state. And that includes our churches. Because no church is perfect, they are all controlled by people…fallible, sinful, human people.
Someday, maybe we will know why God likes to work with and through that which is less than perfect. Perhaps it’s because His perfection shows through more clearly. Perhaps it’s because His grace shines more purely when it is seen through that dark glass of imperfection.
Isaiah says this about God:
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 TNIV)
Paul speaks of the same God in his first letter to the church at Corinth:
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. (I Corinthians 1:27-29 TNIV)
We in the UMC are foolish, weak, and lowly, and our amazing, incredible God has chosen to work in and through us!
Those who choose to leave the UMC leave with our best wishes and hopes for their blessing. But as long as God wants me in the UMC, I will remain, continuing to be a faithful witness for Him, however imperfect I may be, and however imperfect this institution may be.
God has not given up on the UMC. How can I?