Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

Monday, October 24, 2011

Theological Forum on Preaching Christ

The Third Annual Wesleyan Theological Forum in the Indiana Conference is set to take place on Tuesday, November 15th, at 9:00 a.m. at Grace United Methodist Church in Franklin, Indiana.  Professor Mike Pasquarello of Asbury Seminary and Dr. Derek Weber of Aldersgate UMC will be coming to lead the Forum focusing on the theme “Preaching Christ in the Wesleyan Tradition.”  This continuing education event is open to clergy and laity.  Cost is $40.00, which includes lunch. 

Dr. Pasquarello is the Granger E. and Anna A. Fisher Professor of Preaching and Biblical Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary.   He received his B.A. from The Master’s College and his M.Div. from the Duke Divinity School.  His Ph. D. is from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Dr. Pasquarello has published many books on preaching and pastoral ministry, including a forthcoming book entitled John Wesley: Homiletic Theologian (Abingdon).  He and he wife, Patti, have two children.
Derek Weber received his undergraduate degree in Speech and Theatre from the University of Indianapolis.  His Ph. D. is in Practical Theology with a concentration on Homiletics and Media/Communication from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland).  Derek has taught preaching in the Course of Study in Indiana, and for fourteen years served the Dean of the Academy of Preaching in the former North Conference.

Following lunch Mike and Derek will be sharing in a preaching practicum to engage participants in the tasks of preaching Christ in the Wesleyan tradition. 
For more information, please contact Andy Kinsey via email andy.kinsey@inumc.org, or pastorandy@franklingrace.org.

Persons can register by going to the Conference Website www.inumc.org; click “Resources” on left hand side and go to Wesleyan Connexion Project.  Register online.  Note the map and directions to Grace UMC.    
Hope to see folks there!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Choosing to Live

Have you ever read something that captures what you have been thinking? 

In his opening chapter in The Republice of Grace: Augustinian Thoughts in Dark Times, Charles Matthews writes the following about choosing to live our faith in a world of ambivalence and violence.  Beginning with a quote from Reinhold Neibuhr, Matthews states:  "'It is no easy task to do justice to the obligations to do justice to the disctinctions of good and evil in history; and also to subordinate all these relative judgments and achievements to the final truth about life and history which is proclaimed in the Gospel.'"  He continues: "More deeply than discrete positions, I want to introduce Christians to a way of living their faith more thoughtfully than they may currently be living it.  I want to wake people up to the challenges they face to their faith, their prayer life, their ability to love, their ability to be grateful, their ability to be joyful, their ability to care.  Christians need to believe again - to have faith in God, but also belief in our capacity to challenge ourselves and change the way we have chosen to live.  We need to turn from cynicism and scorn, from selfishness and avarice, from lassitude and despair, and to affirm that this is our world, and that its suffering and peril are not cause for retreat but urgent reason to recommit to serving God's purposes in it, that its vulnerability is not inducement to shield ourselves behind brittle walls but reason to care all the more.  Behold, today we have set before us, as perhaps never before in human history, life, and death, and as never before, me must choose to live" (p. 7).

Reflection on the Call

I came across a helpful reflection about the call to the ministry from the Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler.  Noting what it means to be ordained, Sittler writes in his book Gravity and Grace: Reflections and Provocations, "I am not ordained to fulfill my precious self."  Continuing to share about a student who felt called into the ministry, Sittler continues: "One student had a list of things her first call had to have:  it had to be in an urban setting; it had to be with certain kinds of Chicanos, blacks, and poor whites; it had to be in a cultural setting where she could enjoy theater and other activities."  Keeping in mind I Samuel 3, Sittler goes on to responde to the student by sharing:  "You know, it's as if the Bible says, 'Listen, Lord, thy servant speaketh,' instead of 'Speak, Lord, thy servant is listening.'  The church is going to dump you someplace that may have little to do with your agenda.  And it will offer the kind of challenge, humiliation, embarrassment, and opportunity that you didn't foresee" (p. 58).

This is a tough 'call'!  I can appreciate the student's response:  to what kind of ministry is Christ calling me to serve, with all my gifts, graces, weaknesses, etc.?  Then again, can I fail to listen to God's voice calling me to places I may not have considered?

Helping one another understand the call is part and parcel of discerning the Spirit.  It is part and parcel of reflecting on God's gracious claim on our lives.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Life Is Never Normal

What is normal?  In a statement about the contigencies of human life in his lecture "Learning in a Time of War," C. S. Lewis noted how World War II did not change everything.  Rather, the war "simply aggravated the permanent human situation so that it could no longer be ignored."  "Human life," Lewis wrote, "is always lived on the edge of the precipice.  Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself...we are mistaken when we compare war with 'normal life.'  Life has never been normal."

I found this quote in the book The Republic of Grace: Augustinian Thoughts for Dark Times by Charles Matthews of the University of Virginia.  The book is a meditation on Augustine's thought in light of current political and cultural trends.  The quote is a reminder about how we can easily get sucked into thinking how much things "change" (a word in constant usage since 9/11) when, in fact, many things have not changed:  as Lewis states, we live our lives, whether we want to admit it or not, on the edge of the precipice all the time.  We simply don't want to recognize it.  War and terror only bring this point into acute awareness.

The gospel, on the other hand, as Matthews and Lewis go on to state, reveals our true condition and provides the courage for facing our "willed blindness," giving us hope for the living of these days.  Fear does not have to dominate our response to the challenges that will inevitably come our way.  Hope can have the last word.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Quote I Have Pondered

Praying Naked: The Spirituality of Anthony de Mello

The following quote by Anthony De Mello has been a favorite for some time:  "A neurotic is someone who worries about things in the past that never happened.  Not like us normal people who only worry about things in the future that won't happen." 

Enjoy and ponder!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Difference Passion Makes

Soccer and Philosophy: Beautiful Thoughts on the Beautiful Game (Popular Culture and Philosophy)

Here is a book I have enjoyed reading as the girls have taken to the pitch this fall:  Soccer and Philosophy: Beautiful Thoughts on the Beautiful Game.  It is a book with all kinds of insights on the game of soccer and its relation to philosophy.  One chapter in particular speaks to the importance that passion makes when it comes to playing this game.  The author, A. Minh Nguyen of Eastern Kentucky University, contends that what makes a team great is not luck or talent per se, or chemistry or discipline per seor team chemistry or coaching per se.  Rather, what makes a team great is passion:  that special power of the heart that enables teams to stand the heat and show the world what truly matters (p. 265).  It is passion that animates the will and arouses the feeling of intensity to succeed.  As Nguyen goes on to suggest, it is passion that made the difference in helping the FC Barcelona Team of 2009 take such great trides and become one of the great club teams in European history.

I can't help but notice some parallels here with ministry and mission.  We speak of "passionate worship," of course, and the importance of passion for discipleship.  Passion is what can make the difference between good and great, and it can provide the kind of heart it takes for making the difference Christ calls us to make.  Without a sense of passion we can too easily lose sight of what truly matters, of what truly is important.  The question is, How can we demonstrate passion and become the kind of servants Christ calls us to be?  How can we go from good to great with passion?


Monday, August 29, 2011

Primary Speech

Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer

Ann and Barry Ulanov have written a great deal on the life of prayer. In Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer, they explore the depths of prayer and the various aspects of prayer as means for drawing near to God.  Utilizing the insights of psychology, they help us to understand how prayer enables speech to occur and how it extends us beyond our known self into the unknown God (p. 9); there is, as they write, "an otherness to prayer":  that is, "in the process of confessing who we are we find ourselves addressed by the otherness within ourselves and the otherness within our world.  We find ourselves met by others who do not see things the way we do, but insist on other points of view.  For example, in prayer we cannot escape the memory of anyone's criticism of us.  We must look at it from all sides and angles and cannot hide in a defensive reaction by turning it back on our accuser, and say it is his or her problem, not ours" (p. 9).

"In prayer we cannot avoid a dream or a fantasy image that insists on our attention.  We must inspect it and hear what it says about us.  In prayer we discover odd coincidences and new insights that we know did not originate in ourselves.  We cannot create or produce them at will.  Being itself speaks to us in these events, and we listen.  If we go on listening, we feel God pulling us, drawing us into a life of abundance...we become swept into the flowing of this other life through the small space of our self....the speech of prayer tells us of the new life for psyche and soul that comes when we open the door to the one who stands there knocking" (p. 9).

I look forward to reading two other books by the Ulanovs:  The Healing Imagination and Religion and the Unconscious.  There is great wisdom in what they write about prayer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dark Age Ahead?

Dark Age AheadEmerging from the Dark Age Ahead: The Future of the North American Church

Just before her death in 2006 Jane Jacobs, the Canadian social critic and writer, published a book entitled Dark Age Ahead.  In brief, Jacobs argued that with the radical social changes being experienced in the West a catastrophic loss of wisdom which has guided Western culture has also been taking place, especially as that wisdom becomes disengaged from the past and exhilarated by the new, endless world of info/entertainment.  For Jacobs, this scenario has similarities with the loss of wisdom that occurred after the fall of the Roman Empire. 

In addition to Jacob's concerns, we could probably also add the following:  our destructive use of the earth’s resources, our global irresponsibilities to those living in poverty, and our ongoing lust for war and violence.  The list is endless.
I may be off the mark, but I have a feeling this dystopian vision of a dark age ahead is not a popular one.  I am not sure it is a welcome message in many churches.  And yet, as theologian and missiologist Charles Fensham of Knox College in Toronto has also suggested, this kind of message of a dark age ahead may be necessary to shake the churches in North America out of their self-satisfied consumeristic slumbers.  There is a great need to rethink the mission of the church in this rapidly changing context.  Certainly, the emergent and missional church movements are attempts to respond to these challenges.  The new monasticism is also an attempt to come to grips with the loss of wisdom in the wider church and culture.  As Dorothy said to Toto:  "We are not in Kansas anymore."

After reading through Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue a few weeks ago, a book that also speaks of a coming dark age, the problems facing Western culture are indeed daunting:  we do not seem to have a way to address the deep moral and spiritual and social crises facing us.  There is a need for local forms of community that can preserve and express the wisdom of the ages.  There is a need, as MacIntyre states at the end of his book, for a Saint Benedict.
How we may go about such a task, I feel, is surely one of the challenges with which we must wrestle in ministry; it is a task that will come with different responses and solutions, to be sure.  However, as we discern what kind of age is ahead of us, I pray we all will discover the great need to foster an imagination that roots mission in the loving embrace of the triune God, whose mission is already calling us to mend and care for God’s own.  That's a place, I pray, we all can begin; it's a place closer to us than we might think.  


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Holding Together

Holding Together: Gospel, Church, Spirit The Essentials of Christian Identity

I remember James Forbes of Riverside Church saying once that finding good books are part of God's providence in our lives.  He was referring to preaching and the ways pastors may "discover" that right book at the right time in sermon preparation.  I think I know what he means because I know I have stumbled across those books on special occasions!

That's how I feel with Christopher Cocksworth book entitled Holding Together: Gospel, Church, and Spirit - The Essentials of Christian Identity.  Cocksworth is the Bishop of Coventry and served for several years as Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge.  He writes from a unique standpoint in the Anglican tradition, and brings together a wonderful combination of pastoral insight and theological rigour.  Utilizing a key text from the Letter to Colossians (1:15-19), Cocksworth looks at how the confession of Christ as the "one in whom all things hold together" can help us to discern and keep in balance three aspects of the church's life that overtime in the church we have had a tendency to rent asunder:  gospel, church, and Spirit.  What Cockworths wants to develop and describe is a "catholic form of evangelicalism in the Spirit" (p. 11).  He wants to keep in creative tension a strong focus on scripture (gospel), tradition (church), and the charismatic (Spirit).  Throughout his work, he guides us into what this may look like in the wider catholic church today.  Interestingly, Cocksworth draws heavily on John and Charles Wesley to make many of his points.

As I mentioned above, I ordered this book not knowing what it was fully about.  However, it has been good to read again how we may understand the life of the church's mission in the world, realizing how "there is no gospel without the Spirit":  Christ and his gospel come to us by the Spirit; and, of course, "there is no church without the Spirit."  As Cocksworth goes on to state in a rather technical way:  "Ignatius' Christological definition needs to be "held together" with Irenaeus' pneumatological version - 'where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the church and all grace'" (p. 12).

Cocksworth's study offers a balanced approach as to how God not only "holds us together" but how we are to live out our lives in Christ within the church, empowered and graced by the Spirit.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

God Working In Us

Before the Living God

I found a helpful quote in Ruth Burrow's spiritual autobiography that captures a great deal about the journey of faith.  I have pondered again what the following quote means for our lives:

"What we cannot do God is not asking.  God asks what we can do.  I could not - and cannot - follow what seems the classical spiritual journey.  God does not ask it of me.  He has provided another for me.  It may appear a port sort of way, even a cowardly way, but it is my way and God's choice for me.  More than that, I know that, ultimately, in its essence, it is the only way.  Sooner or later everyone must be brought by God to this deep poverty, and everything depends on acceptance of it.  Personalities, temperments differ and God leads all according to their own character.  Roads may appear different but ultimately they converge.  Sooner or later we must take the narrow path and leave behind all spiritual riches.  We have to go to God with empty hands.  We have to let him be wholly and totally God.  How hard this is.  We want to feel good, want to feel we have something to offer him of our own.  We want to be spiritually beautiful, to have an interesting, beautiful spiritual life.  In God's mercy he deprived me of all from the beginning.  He has kept me in a state of poverty and helplessness.  Now he has given me the grace to want this, to choose it" (pp. 114-115).

It is, of course, difficult to grasp what Burrows is saying without full awareness of the rest of the text.  However, given what she states above I am drawn to the way she shares how God works in us according to who we are.  This, it seems to me, is the way of grace.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World

Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World: From 'After Virtue' to a New Monasticism

I have been re-reading Jonathan R. Wilson's little book on Alisdair MacIntyre's After Virtue, and I have enjoyed getting out my copy of After Virtue and trying to understand what MacIntyre says about the "failure of the Enlightenment project" and the importance of practices.  MacIntyre's book was published in 1981, and it is one of the seminal works in philosophy.  I like the way Wilson uses MacIntyre's book as a way to stimulate theological reflection and point to the importance of practices for the Christian faith in a fragmented world, especially as those practices pertain to monasticism.  Wilson helps us, through MacIntyre's work, to take the discussion about ministry and evangelism to a very different level.   I can see why this little book has started a wider conversation about mission in a post-Christendom context in the West.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Theology of Church Renewal

Minding the Good Ground: A Theology for Church Renewal
Jason Vickers is a professor of theology and Wesley Studies at United Theological Seminary in Dayton.  He has just written a helpful little book about the theology of renewal, a work primarily focused on introducing to students the nature of the church and on offering useful commentary on the wide-range of movements currently dotting the church's landscape (e.g., missional, emergent, new monastic, etc.). 

Vickers' book is not a "how-to" book, and it is not about "quick-fixes."  Instead, it supplies a well-grounded theology to the nature and work of the triune God and the ways we are called to participate in God.

Vicker's volume provides a helpful introduction to those who are seeking to understand the church's mission in the world and the theology that informs that mission.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Generation Next

Generation Rising: A Future with Hope for The United Methodist Church

Andrew Thompson is a graduate of the Duke University Th.D. program and a frequent contributor to the Methodist Reporter.  He will begin teaching historical theology and Wesley Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary in the fall.  This book, which he helped to create and edit, reflects the voices of hope in the church.  There is much to consider as he and others offer wisdom to those concerned about the church's ministry with younger generations.


Friday, July 29, 2011


As I watch the struggle of our political leaders to deal with the debt ceiling, I am reminded of the struggle within our own lives to make sense of God's way and forgiveness, knowing the struggle reflects our own call to be faithful:

O God, witnessing our political struggles in this nation, I am reminded of the struggle within our own lives.  I pray that wisdom and forgiveness and justice will prevail amidst the toxic and chaotic calls of division and discord.  In Christ's name.  Amen.

Two More Books to Consider

Wesleyan Beliefs: Formal and Popular Expressions of the Core Beliefs of Wesleyan Communities

A Little Heaven Below

Darren Cushman-Wood, pastor of Speedway UMC, has recommended two resources with respect to Methodist history and belief.  I haven't read these works yet, but look forward to reading them, especially the one about the Quarterly Meetings.

Pietist Impulse

The Pietist Impulse in Christianity (Princeton Theological Monograph)
Two years ago I attended a conference at Bethel College in Minnesota.  The main thrust of the conference was the "pietist impulse in Christianity" which looked at the historical currents or 'impulses' of pietism in the church, mostly coming from continental Europe. 

Now the book is out with several good chapters on the relationship between Methodism and Pietism. 

This is probably not everyone's cup of tea, but it does provide an interesting framework for understanding this important impulse within the wider Christian tradition.

Summer Reading

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir
Last week I had the opportunity to read Stanley Hauerwas's memoir Hannah's Child.  I found it to be a very interesting book, especially as it pertains to the importance of friendship and the stuggle with a loved-one with mental illness.  There is much here to consider about family, education, and theological reflection. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Interesting Resources

The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Oxford Handbooks)The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies (Oxford Handbooks) 

It is not everyday that I would recommend two very expensive resources, but the two books above are part of my ongoing efforts to make sense of our Methodist/Wesleyan heritage and the wider evangelical tradition.  They are highly accessible in terms of readership, and they help to place in a broader context the cross-currents that flow beneath the surface of these streams of Christian faith and practice.  The Handbook of Methodist Studies is particularly useful, especially in light of the current discussions surrounding what it means to be a "Wesleyan" or "Methodist" Christian.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A More Perfect Union

Over the next four weeks I will be lifting up the message of Habakkuk.  In fact, if you would like to get the copy of the little book on Habakkuk on Amazon by Keith Kent, I invite you to do so. It’s another way to follow along with what we will be sharing.


We know very little about Habakkuk other than what he wrote here.  We do not know about his tribe or hometown, and we really don’t know what his name means.  In Hebrew, for example, Habakkuk means “embrace” or “hug.”  In Akkadian, Habakkuk means fruit tree. We don’t know for sure./1/ 
What we do know is that, based on his writings, Habakkuk lived near the end of the seventh century B.C., contemporaries with the prophets Nahum, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah.

That’s important to keep in mind because that period of history was a turbulent period of history. 
If you will remember:  following the reign of King Solomon the nation of Israel splits into two kingdoms:  a northern kingdom of Israel and a southern kingdom of Judah.
In time the Assyrians would conquer and destroy the northern kingdom, deporting the population in 722-721 B.C, and then in 587 B.C., the Babylonians would march into Jerusalem in the south and take the people into exile.
Over a period of two hundred years the people of Israel would be scattered throughout the Middle East – in Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt, to name a few.
Nothing was stable. The whole world was in flux, and not only the world, but the tiny nation of Judah was in turmoil. Things were not right. 

And that’s where the prophet Habakkuk comes into the picture.   Habakkuk loves God, but he is not happy with God. /2/ In fact, Habakkuk has questions for God as to why God is not acting in the face of so much violence and injustice in the land.  

That’s a major question in this book:  Why?  If God is just and good, why is he tolerating so much evil, so much injustice, so much sin? 

Habakkuk knows God does not approve of violence and corruption, but somehow violence and corruption seem to have the upper hand:  Why doesn’t God do something to change it?  “The wicked hem in the righteous and pervert the good” (1:2-4).

That’s how Habakkuk begins this book:  complaining!  Not so much against the people, though the people are not innocent, but against God!  Why is there so much oppression, so much hate, murder, poor health, greed, war, floods, homelessness, strife, conflict in families, and disease?

Habakkuk does not doubt God can act in the face of these problems, but he is filled with anguish as to what God will do, or won’t do: Why is it taking God so long to act?
Difficult Questions

To the hard-hearted these questions are simply part and parcel of life’s journey:  that’s just the way life is!  We will always have the poor with us, right?  There will always be wars and rumors of war, right?! It’s normal!

But to a prophet like Habakkuk these things are not normal: they are disasters! Violence, cheating, apathy, exploitation – are like deathblows to our existence as human beings, injuring everyone./3/

And that’s what concerns Habakkuk: he sees the wrong the people are doing, and the consequences of what could happen, and he wants God to do something about it, but he is dismayed and even fearful over how God will take care of the problem: God will use the Babylonians to execute justice!

And that’s not what Habakkuk had in mind! To be sure, the people of Judah have done wrong, but isn’t God going overboard punishing them by using the Babylonians? After all, didn’t God make a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendents to be a great nation (Gen. 12:1-3)? What if the Babylonians wipe out the entire nation of Judah? What would happen to the covenant?  That’s not the kind of punishment Habakkuk wants!/4/ 

Question:  have you ever prayed to God for a certain answer only to have God answer that prayer, and then you are actually surprised with the answer?  What’s the old adage?  Be careful what you pray for!  If so, you can understand Habakkuk’s anguish:  Habakkuk gets an answer from God, but it’s not the answer he expects! 

Habakkuk wants to know when God will execute justice and how God will provide for the people in the face of so much violence, but he also wants to know what the people need to do to respond to God as part of the covenant.

Habakkuk’s Message

Those are the concerns that guide this prophet, and they are the concerns that lead him to conclude in the face of so much chaos that “the righteous will live by faith” (2:4b)./5/

Standing watch on the walls of the city of Jerusalem, Habakkuk receives God’s answer to his complaints, and it’s an answer that Habakkuk is to write plain on tablets big enough so that if you and I are driving by them, we will see them (2:1-2); even though the world around us is coming apart, even though we don’t understand what is going on:  the righteous will live by faith. 

As people of Christ’s covenant, we may not have all the answers to the problems of injustice, or to all the problems that assail us, but as those who believe in God we are to be steadfast in our trust of God:  God will act, in God’s time, for God’s vision of what is true will come to pass.  God doesn’t lie./6/

That’s how God answers Habakkuk:  though this present time is filled with all kinds of problems, the righteous shall live by faith! 

In other words, God’s message is, “Keep the faith!”  I can hear my mom in the background:  “Yes, things are not going well, but in order to be a witness to Christ, keep the faith – even when everyone else isn’t, even when the rest of the group isn’t, even when your friends are not, even the nation you love is not going in the direction you think is right – keep the faith!  Even when you don’t understand God and God’s ways, keep the faith!  Keep on trusting God!”

A popular message today?  Yes?  No?  Maybe what Habakkuk is saying is,  “We can’t have change until there is faith, and until there is faith in what God can do righteousness is in short supply.”   

Reminder and Lesson

It is also why it may be important to remember that what the prophets of Israel usually give us is what I call the “minority report”:  typically, what the prophet says is not popular; the vast majority of the people do not listen to the prophet – whether it’s Habakkuk, or Amos, or Jeremiah. There is a kind of Rodney Dangerfield effect:  no respect! Traditionally, the people of God – whether it’s Israel or the church – ignore the prophets.    

In Habakkuk’s case, few listen, and fewer understand why he is so upset.  They don’t understand why this prophet who loves God questions God; and they don’t see the judgment that is coming:  there is a “disconnect” between the vision of what God seeks and the reality of what the people do.  And so, Habakkuk prays for God’s mercy (3:2). 

No prophet ever wants to see judgment come upon the people! That is, the prophet is not a person who goes about in pride announcing doom. Instead, in fear and trembling there is the announcement of God’s word and God’s mercy.

There is a lesson here, I believe, as we approach a time of national celebration and reflection; for in the Preamble to the Constitution, it states that “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”

The key word in that statement is “we.”  In the history of the United States that “we” has not included everyone:  this union is not a perfect union; instead, it is a work in progress, an experiment, distant goal, a vision of what can be.  Along the way, there have been moments of “discontent” between what we profess and what we do.

In fact, I think most of our conflicts in our history have had to do with how we interpret who gets included in the “we”!  Hence, the discontent!

Now to be sure that’s not all bad:  without discontent we get little accomplished.  On the other hand, when our discontent becomes outright anger we can say and do things that can only make matters worse.

The other day as I watching television I overheard Thomas Friedman of The New York Times suggest that at this moment in history we Americans could be characterized as “frustrated optimists”:  we are frustrated because we know as a people that we are falling short of what we profess we say we are about; we are frustrated because we can’t seem to agree on a way forward; and yet, we are optimistic because we believe the future holds promise. 

I think the prophet Habakkuk would understand:  there is the vision of what God intends, but then there are the problems that fly in the face of that vision.  Hence, the frustration!

And what Habakkuk wants to say is, “All right, God, even with all the problems we face as a nation, we as God’s people will live by faith, even if we don’t understand, even when everyone else isn’t, we will…”

We will live by faith and be thankful.  We will witness to Christ and be thankful.  We will pursue justice and be thankful.  We will walk in the way that leads to life and be thankful. 

Yes, we will!  Amen.

1.     See Kent M. Keith, Have Faith Anyway:  The Vision of Habakkuk for Our Time (San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2008), p. 2.

2.     See Kent M. Keith, Have Faith Anyway:  The Vision of Habakkuk for Our Times (San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2008), pp. 2-4 and 9ff.

3.     See Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets: An Introduction – Volume One (New York:  Harper & Row Publishers, 1962), p. 4.

4.     See Have Faith Anyway, pp. 7ff.  See also Theodore Hiebert, “The Book of Habakkuk” in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press 1996), p. 641; and see Donald E. Gowan, The Triumph of Faith in Habakkuk (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1976), pp. 40ff. 

5.     See Have Faith Anyway, pp. 13ff.

6.     See Have Faith Anyway, p. 19.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Not Almost Christian, but Altogether Methodist

It’s a scenario many in the church may have experienced.   There is the question:  “What makes United Methodism distinct?”   And then there is the answer:  “We can believe what we want!”   It’s not exactly the answer we may have had in mind, but it’s become popular in some circles.  It certainly doesn’t reflect what is best about our Wesleyan tradition.

It may be an overstatement, but somewhere along the line we as United Methodists seem to have lost contact with the treasures of our heritage.  We seem to have forgotten what Wesley said about an “altogether Christian” as over and against an “almost Christian.”  For Wesley, the “altogether Christian” is the person who desires to love God with their whole heart and mind and strength and their neighbor as themselves, and not just their neighbors but their enemies too.   For Wesley, nothing could be worse than being an “almost Christian” or having a loveless faith.
One of Wesley’s worst fears, of course, was that “the people called Methodists” would become “almost Christians”:  they would demonstrate the form but not the power of true religion, empty of the power of God’s transforming love.  

In his famous tract on “The Character of a Methodist,” for example, Wesley stresses that what makes “altogether” or “real” Christians is how God has changed their lives inwardly:   persons are able trust in Christ alone for salvation and know their lives have been cleansed from sin; they are able to “give themselves as a loving sacrifice to God so that people around them may grow into the fullness of Christ.”  The kind of life Wesley envisions is a life of loving obedience to God.   

Throughout Wesley’s Sermons and Notes on the New Testament, we hear how he describes the Christian life as a life lived in the power and presence of God’s grace.  The pilgrimage upon which we embark in baptism becomes a visible expression of “faith working through love,” not only to be lived out as love of God but also as love of neighbor, as works of piety but also as works of mercy.   As we grow in grace as “altogether Christians,” we grow in service to the world.   We cannot separate “walking as Jesus walked and having the mind of Christ.”  The two go hand-in-hand.
Among United Methodists, this may sound familiar.  The Wesleyan mission to spread scriptural holiness set out to establish a dynamic pattern of living that focused on helping the whole person.   The Methodist programs of medical clinics and interest-free loans, orphanages and schools, housing and meals for the poor, not to mention the network of bands, classes, and societies – were all meant to increase among the fellowship of believers true love of God and neighbor.   At its core, the Wesleyan form of discipleship was (and is) a very practical aspect of living in Christ.

One Wesleyan historian, Richard Heitzenrater of Duke University, has stated that Methodism never really achieved large membership during Wesley’s lifetime because of the strict discipline that Wesley required to enter into covenant with the Methodists.   That the Methodist movement continued after Wesley’s death is testimony to the power of the vision he cast for true Christian living:  conforming our lives to Christ is how we are to live as faithful disciples.  What we do in Christ’s name is simply a sign of who we are as God’s children.
Sound easy?   Somewhere in our DNA as United Methodists are the seeds of our own renewal.   It’s why it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine how we can fall into a mindset of “anything goes” or “believe what you want.”   Rather, as United Methodists we can build upon the best our heritage has to offer:   we can look, as John Wesley did, to Jesus Christ, the true pioneer and perfecter of our faith, the One who can make us altogether Christian (Heb. 12:2).
(This blog will appear in the Together Magazine of the Indiana Conference.)


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Got Milk?

His name was Howard Hughes. As an aviator he once held every speed record of consequence, and was once considered the greatest flyer in the world. At various points in his life he owned an international airline, two regional airlines, an aircraft company, a major motion picture studio, mining properties, a tool company, gambling casinos and hotels in Las Vegas, along with a medical research center and a vast amount real estate.

It is believed that when Howard Hughes died in 1976 he was worth over $2 billion dollars, making him the richest man in the world.

When he died he was being cared for around the clock by 15 personal attendants and 3 full-time doctors. He had the best health care money could buy; and yet, you may be shocked to know what killed him: malnutrition and dehydration.

Howard Hughes was so eccentric and psychologically disturbed that he refused all food and water because he was afraid it would kill him. He was so obsessed about absolute purity in food and water that he would no longer eat or drink. But He forgot one simple fact: no food and water, no life./1/

The Christian Life

We can see the similarities to the Christian life: We can’t make it without food and water; in the case of 1 Peter, we can’t make it without the “pure, spiritual milk” of God’s word (2:2).

That’s how many scholars translate our passage today: We can understand the adjectives “pure” and “spiritual” better as “word of preaching” or “word of instruction: Just as the promised land flowed with milk and honey for the children of Israel, so also the “milk of God’s word” flows as a foretaste of God’s salvation for those who believe in Christ./2/

In short, this spiritual milk helps newborn Christians grow toward salvation as a mother’s milk nurtures infants toward maturity.

Therefore, as First Peter states, as Christians, we “grow into salvation,” and live with the promise of the fullness of God’s mercy and with a foretaste of what that mercy will be (2:2), for it is only by God’s mercy that we are Christians in the first place (2:10), that we are part of a royal priesthood (2:9)./3/

The image of “milk” is simply that image that helps us with the whole range of God’s good gifts for the Christian life: “pure, spiritual milk” is the opposite of guile and slander and malice and insincerity (2:1).

That kind of selfishness is what we leave behind for new life in Christ: as a newborn infant desires milk, so the Christian desires the Word.

The Greek word for desire here is important: epithymia. It means longing or hunger. It’s similar to what we hear in Psalm 42: that “as a deer longs for flowing streams so my soul longs for the living God (42:1-2a). First Peter tells us that there is a longing in the heart to know what is true and pure: as children of God, we all have a desire to know God./4/

That’s a little different from what the apostle Paul says to the Corinthians when he distinguishes between milk and solid food, with milk being for the infant or selfish person and solid food for the adult or mature person. Paul writes: “I fed you with milk not solid food, because you were not ready for solid food” (1 Cor. 3:2).

We can also find the same emphasis in the Letter to the Hebrews: Milk is for the unskilled person of faith and solid food for the skilled or trained person of faith (5:12-14).

Peter, on the other hand, wants to see every Christian have a desire for the “milk of God’s word,” regardless of age or status.

Hence, the question: Got milk?

Got Milk?

Perhaps you have seen the billboards and commercials: Got milk? There are pictures of famous persons like Michael Jordon and Paul Newman with white ‘milk’ mustaches advertising the importance of drinking milk.

There are even a couple persons at Grace Church with them! Pastor Bob? Got milk? Bob’s is a little more permanent! Pastor Jenothy? Got milk? And Roger and Sarai? Got milk?

And you? Got milk?

Actually, a better or more accurate description would be “Do you have a hunger for God’s milk, for God’s word?” Do you have that desire to grow closer to God?

That’s what Peter is really after: Peter wants to see Christians taste the goodness of the Lord (2:3). He wants to see persons in his congregations come to Christ and allow themselves be built into a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (2:5). He wants to see believers, after receiving God’s mercy, offer sacrifices in return, though not as on the altar in the Temple, but rather as the sacrifice of faithful obedience and the life of love that goes with it (2:5): a life without the vices of malice and deceit and envy and hypocrisy (2:1).

That’s the kind of sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (2:5): a life of faithful obedience, a life marked with promise and mercy.

But note the connection: Without the desire for the milk of the gospel, there can be no life of sacrifice and obedience. No milk, no life.

Other Food

I don’t know if you are a milk drinker. I know some persons are allergic to milk. I know as a family we drink a great deal of milk every week. I grew up drinking milk, and I love the taste of ice cold milk; and without sounding too much like a commercial, I will say it is good for you. And so, I hope you can drink milk!

But I also hope there is a desire for the kind of milk we are talking about today: the gift of God’s word. I hope there is a hunger for that.

The human heart desires many things. Many of those desires, when out of step with God’s purposes, can lead to downfall, to a life without mercy and peace. As Peter says, our desires can go in many directions: they can go toward slander and malice, or toward envy and hypocrisy and evil speaking (1 Peter 2:2, NKJ). They can lead us, if allowed, down the road to becoming ensnared in power-games or ego-trips. Our desires are in constant need of God’s grace and judgment, for it is only by God’s Spirit working in us that those desires can become the fruit of holiness.

I share that because it is so easy to say things and do things that can hurt others, even without being aware of what we have said or done.

When left to our own devices, our hearts are lost; or, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, when we forget God’s covenant our hearts become “wicked” (44:9). We forget whose we are and who we are.

It’s why the words of Saint Augustine still ring true: “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.” That is, our hearts will look to fill the void with other “spirits,” with other things, unless they find assurance in God.

Our souls, our hearts – our spiritual stomachs, if you will – will look for nourishment elsewhere if they are not actively pursuing or longing for the milk of God’s word. Hence the question: Got milk? Or more precisely: Do you have the desire for the milk of God’s instruction, of God’s word, of God’s mercy?

With so many options today for choosing what to believe, we need to ask ourselves: What are we seeking to eat and drink? What kind of food – spiritual food – are we going to eat?

The famous writer and author G. K. Chesterton once said that the purpose of having an open mind is the same as having an open mouth, so that we can close it on something nourishing.

May 21st, 2011 was supposed to have been the end of the world. A pastor by the name of Harold Camping and several other persons have been predicting that major other calamities would destroy life on earth as we know it, thus bringing about the rapture at 1:00 in the afternoon (Eastern Time or Pacific Time, I don’t know). Apparently, he had decoded the Bible and calculated that the world would end at that moment.

Not to make light of the suffering in the world due to recent events, and not to dismiss the hope of God’s future (which we all have), there is a report that God has continued to sustain and provide life on this earth as we worship!

And yet, the news of this kind of ‘gospel,’ of this kind of message, raises questions: Is this the kind of milk God wants us to have? Is that the kind of food we are to eat?

In several recent studies on American culture and religion, it is clear there is a deeper problem: Persons may say they revere God’s word, but they know very little about it: Fewer than half of all adults in the United States, for example, can name the four Gospels in the New Testament. Sixty percent of adults and youth cannot name five of the Ten Commandments. And twelve percent of adults believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. I think you get the picture.

If we don’t know the basics, what will fill the emptiness?

It’s a big cafeteria out there! There are so many different religious options from which to choose. And now with the internet it’s almost impossible to keep track of the different kinds of spiritual food on sale.

What’s the old adage: You are what you eat! With so much junk food out there – spiritual and otherwise – it is becoming more and more difficult to eat well and live well. It’s becoming more and more difficult to digest what is on offer, to find food that is spiritually nourishing.


And yet, the good news is that God has given us a better offer, a better hope of what is pure, what is good, what is whole, what is holy: God has given to us Jesus Christ, rejected by mortals, yet chosen and precious in God’s sight – a perfect offering (2:4), without whom we would remain in darkness but with whom we can live in light (2:9-10).

God has given us that precious gift out of his great love and mercy!Hence, the question: Got milk?

Dear friend, receive this invitation: Come and see; come and see and taste that the Lord is good!


1. Thanks to Reverend James Merritt for this story (Collected Sermons: Christian Globe Networks, Inc.).

2. See The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), p. 264.

3. Ibid., p. 264.

4. Ibid., p. 264.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Marked with Promise

Acts 2:42-47

Over the last few weeks Peggy and I have had the opportunity to attend several track meets to watch our daughter Grace. Needless to say, we always enjoy seeing so many young people out there running and jumping and throwing. It is a pleasure to see what the kids can accomplish.

The other day while we were watching the Conference Meet we overheard the judge instruct the runners for the 800 Meter Run. The judge told the boys how they were to approach their marks before he would fire the gun. The instruction was simple: He would say the command “To your mark” which would signal to them to move up, and then he would shoot the gun, beginning the race.

What I found a little amusing what was that when the judge made his command to move to the mark, several of the runners stood still; they didn’t move. Rather than start with the others who had moved up, these boys remained in place, already two paces behind. And the race hadn’t even started!

To your mark!

From the days of the ancient games in Greece, the “mark” was that unique design on the track or field, identifying the athlete. Anyone who knew all the competitors’ “marks” could tell who was running as they lined up.
Therefore, the first command to the runner is not “go,” but “on your mark.”/1/

Early Christian “Marks of Community”

That’s a good way to understand our passage from the Acts of the Apostles today: following the preaching of Peter on the resurrection of Jesus, the first apostles were quick to establish the definitive “marks” of the church; they were quick to embody these marks in the life of this new community as they went about running the race of faith.

Luke tells us that from the start this new community took on a unique shape. In fact, it might be helpful to think of the early church as the first attempt at spiritual “cross-training.”

Cross-training is the concept that gets gymnasts lifting weights while football players take ballet. Lately, it has become popular through different kinds of shoes.

According to Luke, from the very beginning the church practiced a kind of spiritual cross-training by committing itself to four basic exercises:

First, there was a commitment to teaching: the early apostles’ passed on what Jesus had taught. They took time to instruct and counsel new converts.

Second, there was support to have fellowship together. The early Christians took time to be together, to enjoy relationships, to encourage and to support.

Third, there was the benefit of breaking bread together, not only during the celebration of Communion but also with other families and in homes. There was a commitment to give and share.

And fourth, there was prayer to strengthen the whole fabric of the church’s life. There was an intentional effort to lift up others and to remember the concerns of the whole community. Prayer was a key part of the church’s success.

Luke tells us that these early Christians did a great deal of cross-training together, so much so that when they practiced this way of life they saw “many signs and wonders” taking place (2:43), they were able to share “all things in common” (2:44), and sell their possessions and goods and give the proceeds to any who had a need (2:45); they were able to gather in homes and praise God (2:46), and respond with glad and generous hearts to the concerns of others (2:46).

And everyday that these Christians practiced this way of life the Lord would add to their numbers those who were being saved (2:47).

What began as a small house gathering would grow into a worldwide movement: all after the preaching of Peter’s first sermon! What any pastor would give for such a response! From country chapel to mega-church all in one day, in less than one hour! I can tell you that didn’t happen after my first sermon!

It was like these early Christians had entered the Zone! Do you know what I mean by the Zone? In athletics the Zone is that extraordinary place in which action and reaction seem to happen automatically. Everything falls into its right order and rhythm. Everything is clicking and falling into place.

The baseball looks like a watermelon. The basket looks like a hula hoop. In golf the swing is effortless and every ball flies straight off the tie.

It is Michael Jordan winning six NBA championships, or Lance Armstrong winning a record sixth Tour de France – the flow, the effortless present, all humming together./2/

Our passage from Acts describes what happens when the church enters the Zone of the Holy Spirit, when “awe and wonder” come over the whole assembly (2:43) and when believers discover the true purpose of the Christian life – in community.

Suddenly, the true “marks” of the church become visible and apparent to all – the generous giving, the glad hearts, the warm fellowship, the faithful teaching, the breaking of bread, the commitment to pray, and the praising of God.

When these “marks” become visible, people can actually see how the Holy Spirit is working; they can visually locate what the Lord is doing through the company of faithful followers: through a church marked with God’s promises!

Where Is this Church?

Let me ask you: Have you seen this church? If so, where?

The great missionary bishop of the Anglican Church in India, Leslie Newbigin, once wrote that the best evidence for believing the gospel in a highly indifferent, secular culture is a congregation of persons who display these “marks” of the Spirit on a daily basis./3/

A congregation! A church! Not simply a scattering of individuals hither, thither, and yon, but a community devoted to the Way.

It’s an old argument, of course. John Wesley, the leader of the Methodists, made a similar point two hundred years earlier. And Martin Luther and St. Augustine and the apostle Paul made it before him: When people see the church “living in sink” with God’s Spirit, they are more likely to come to faith.

On the other hand, when the church falls outside the workings of the Spirit, when it fails to live out the power and promise of Christ’s resurrection, it more often than not falls prey to the latest trend, or fad, or ideology, or philosophy. No longer is there anything unique about Christ’s body.

Sadly, the church in our world today is so tragically divided that it has become more and more difficult to see the marks of the Spirit. We simply take it for granted that the reason there are so many churches is to satisfy the spiritual needs of individuals with different tastes: Methodists and Baptists have become like franchises that exist to serve a basic kind food to a particular kind of demographic group!

What we so often fail to realize in this picture is that when the Holy Spirit created the church, the Spirit created a community that was to tell the world that apart from Christ our “needs” or “tastes” really do not make sense at all, that apart from the gospel our “needs” are really not what we thought they were (Jn. 15:6-7): seen in light of the gospel what I thought I needed I didn’t, and the medicine I really didn’t want to take I need to take, if I wanted to be made whole.

To a society built on the myth of self-reliance that’s not a popular message.

In fact, when we see the church simply as a voluntary organization comprised of “individuals” and not biblically as a community of the Spirit, gifted with the presence of Christ, we suddenly recognize features other than what God intended: that is, we can begin to act in ways that run contrary to the gospel, focusing on whatever “works” (a kind of runaway pragmatism), or on whatever “feels” good (a kind of Dr. Phil therapy session); or we can become captive to a political or religious ideology (as happened in Germany in 1930’s)./4/

On all of these counts there is a loss of substance of the gospel about the costs of discipleship (Lk. 14:27). Suddenly, the focus is not on Christ but on us.

Perhaps another way of approaching this is by asking the following questions: What do you look for in a church? Do you look for strong teaching? Do you look for authentic fellowship? Do you look for a congregation that is committed to serving others? Do you look for a church that challenges you to sacrifice and give and pray? Do you look for the biblical “marks of promise” that we hear about in our passage?

Several weeks ago I met with a gentleman from a church north of here. I learned that this particular church has numerous sports programs and a huge physical education complex. He shared with me how many people playing basketball and volleyball and involved in aerobics. And I couldn’t help but be impressed and a little jealous! But I thought: Are those the marks of the church: Yes? No? It’s a way to catch people, isn’t it? What do you think?

In the United Methodist Church there is a new report entitled “The Call to Action”; it has been commissioned by our Council of Bishops in an attempt to address the years of decline in the church.

In this report it states very clearly that a vital congregation will be known by the following “marks” or “features”: numerous small group ministries, solid children’s and youth ministries, strong outreach and mission programs, different styles of worship services, topical preaching, and long-term pastorates. Marks of the church? Yes? No? Sound promising? How are we doing?

Without going into specifics, I will only say that, regarding this report, I wish more was stated about the biblical marks of the church – that as Christians in the Wesleyan tradition we believe the church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”; that is, we believe the church is “the redemptive fellowship in which the Word of God is faithfully preached and the sacraments are duly administered; and that under the discipline of the Holy Spirit the church exists to build up the life of the believer for the redemption of the world”./5/

In other words, the church is more than simply a set of programs! Amen! It’s more than any one person, or place, or thing, or pastor! It’s more than a beautiful building!

And it’s that “more than” that makes the church so promising, that connects people with Christ…that brings hope and healing so that people can rebuild their lives…that invites people into God’s love and grace and service and fellowship and praise, and that challenges them to grow and give.

That promise! That faithful promise of devoting ourselves to being together in mission, with glad and generous hearts, praising God and following Christ, and having the goodwill of all the people (2:46-47).
That promise!

And so, with glad and generous hearts, let us fulfill that mission as we share with and to give any as they have need (2:45; 46). Amen.


1. Thanks to Leonard Sweet for these insights; see the sermon info “On Your Mark” at www.HomileticsOnline.com (5/2/1993).

2. See “The Effortless Present” at www.HomileticsOnline.com for these insights (4/17/2005).

3. See Leslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p. 227.

4. Robert N. Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985). This book brings to light how the language of therapy and utilitarianism bring to light the empties of modern self-understanding and lack of depth in community.

5. “Confession of Faith” – Article V, The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2008).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Prayer

Glory to the Father, who has woven garments of glory for the resurrection.

Worship to the Son, who was clothed in them at his rising.

Thanksgiving to the Spirit, who keeps them for all the saints.  Amen.

Syrian Orthodox Church

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday Prayer

Merciful and everliving God, Creator of heaven and earth, the crucified body of your Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy day.  Grant that we may await with him the dawning of the third day and rise in newness of life, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Scripture

"Being found in human form, Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Philippians 2:8-11

Good Friday Invocations

Lord, you have delivered us by your sacrifice:  Help us to live by your new and eternal covenant.

We accept this day as your gift to us:  Let us follow you in newness of life.

Through the blood and water flowing from your side:  Pour out the light of the Spirit upon us.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday

O God, by the example of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, you taught us the greatness of true humility, and call us to watch with him in his passion.  Give us grace to serve one another in all lowliness, and to enter into the fellowship of his suffering; in his name and for his sake.  Amen.

W. E. Orchard

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday Prayer

Lord, remember all who live the Christian life:  Show them the light of your face.

Uphold all who serve you in the ministry:  Give them the strength of your Holy Spirit.

Fill the hearts of your people with joy and peace:  Answer all their needs.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Invocation on Tuesday

Strengthen in us, Lord, our love for you today:  Lead us to the truth.

We offer our needs to you:  Take to yourself our cares and hopes.

Lord Jesus, we pray for all who suffer:  Show them your compassion through us.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Prayers for Holy Week

For my devotion time I use the The Glenstal Book of Prayer.  Here is the evening prayer for Monday.

Lord Jesus, grant that the whole world may be saved:  Bring all people to the knowledge of your truth.

Lord, in your kindness be with the poor and weak:  Bring them the help of your comfort.

Lord, bring your healing to the sick:  Give food and drink to the hungry and thirsty.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Church or Movement?

For as long as I have been a United Methodist pastor there has been ongoing conversation about whether or not the United Methodist Church is a church or movement.  Again and again, I have heard references as to how and why we should become a movement:  "That's what Wesley launched:  a movement, not a church!"  "If we can only recapture the movement..."  I can even recall a bishop who made such a claim:  "We are not really a church but a movement."

I find this kind of rhetoric fanciful.  I also wonder if it reflects a deeper unwillingness to come to grips with our doctrine and polity as United Methodist, or as Albert Outler observed, that as United Methodists we really do not want to have an "ecclesiology" because we simply have not had to deal with it:  i.e., we really don't want to deal with the kind of accountability 'being the church' implies.  We have been so good at putting our eggs in the 'movement' basket that we keep kicking the ecclesial can down the road, saying things and doing things with little to no understanding about what it means to be 'church.'  Hence, we have little awareness of our own discipline or doctrine.  Persons can believe what they want!  Or, at least, that's what I am told...

That may sound crass, but I don't think it is far from the truth.  In addition, even if we were to become a movement again, it still wouldn't solve our problems with doctrine, discipline, and polity.  I don't think Wesley stopped doing the hard work of spiritual direction and doctrinal formation in the midst of revival without the ecclesial mechanisms of authority and accountability in place.  In fact, the whole Wesleyan movement could not be sustained if it didn't have the ecclesial marks or ways of identifying it!  That's part of what is so contested today among Wesleyans and Methodists:  What makes us unique?  We don't seem to know.

The whole conversation about whether we are a movement or a church is non-starter, at least for me; it has become another way to avoid the kind of theological work we need to be doing as the Church.  We can only pray that the Spirit will move us in that direction.