We will soon be celebrating the coming of the Wise Men to the child Jesus and we enter the season of Epiphany which is a tremendous time to emphasis mission and mercy. The Wise men went back home and we believe that they are the first Gentiles to worship the Messiah and there is some evidence that a Christian Church outpost was started by those men. They were missionaries. There presence caused the formation of a gathering of folks that proclaimed the glory of God that the Wise men saw shining in the face of Jesus. There was a fellowship of believers that grew because of their witness.
Christians through the ages have sought the fellowship of those who believe the same things and who rejoice in God’s glory and mercy and want to be in a fellowship of grace. Part of it was a need for the feeling of safety in numbers of course, and part of it was a need to try and recognize in a tangible way that Christians have, according to Paul in Ephesians, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” That is a marvelous image and a great missionary impetus as well. Recognizing the Lordship of Christ with my brothers and sisters around the world is a fabulous thing and gives perspective to life and mercy and hope.
There is another reason that groups of churches get together into synods or other organizations. “The maintenance and advancement of the unity of the pure confession, and common defense against separatism and sectarianism” is the reason we have a Synod. It is the reason that congregations form together and make up a Synod. It is for the development of a “culture” that stands for an exclusive Gospel proclamation of Christ that makes us united in witness.
Of course, the same reason that individuals join churches and churches join larger bodies is the very reason that problems arise. Maintaining the unity of faith is easy as long as you believe the same thing I do. Lutherans have been known to separate over some interesting things and one of my old professors said that in Lutheran world, “wherever two or three are gathered together there is a split”. The obverse can be the same. There was a time when there were mergers and discussion about fellowship among all kinds and types of Christians to the point where that same professor said, “it is as if everyone decided that since we all don’t believe very much anymore, let’s get together and misbelieve together”.
Now today I hear that the “United Methodists” might not be so united anymore and of course the divisions come on the basis of what some call a cultural issue. The cultural issue is of course LGBTQ issues and some day some one somewhere might ask the question why an extremely small percentage of the population can raise so many issues. It is LGBTQ issues that have brought mission activity for major church bodies around the world almost to an end because the cultures of those Christians have rejected our culture. Folks in the global south take dogma and doctrine seriously and they will not partner with a Western church that politicizes doctrine and rejects natural law, let alone the Ten Commandments.
The fact is that the United Methodist Church will probably split and there are many reasons. One hint might be on there official web page at http://www.umc.org
When clicking on the What We Believe, or, Basics of Our Faith sections, you will be told that the site will not allow you to view the descriptions. 1 Peter 3:15 be darned. If you click further you get the old “forbidden access” ploy. Maybe that is the issue. If you don’t now what you believe or if you do and don’t want to defend it, what is the point of the organization?