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Judgement, Hope and the UMC

“If we were to discern divine Providence in the decline of the churches we have to be willing to submit ourselves to God's judgment. God's judgment is not a moralistic condemnation, but a divine No to what is contrary to God's purposes in history. God does not advance God's purposes without working against opposition to, distortion of, or failure to obey God's will.

“We have to be willing to subject mainline Protestantism to the scrutiny of divine judgment. Has its theology been adequate to express the fullness of divine revelation? Has its churches been too ingrown and complacent? Is there the fire of personal experience of God's truth and love revealed in Jesus Christ and ignited by the Holy Spirit? Has there been a commitment to the transformation of society? We know the answer. Why then should we be surprised if God must re-arrange the Christian map by breaking up the old to make room for the new?

“We also need to discern the promise of God's action in our midst. Wherever there is the willingness to repent before the judgment of Providence, there is the promise of new life.

“The hope of Christianity, and of the remnant of the mainline Protestant churches, lies in participating in what new thing God is doing. To put it simply, God is working to make the institutional churches conform to God's own purpose for the church of Jesus Christ. The renewal of the churches will come by being the church. This will not happen by organizational planning, although obviously such is necessary, unless something more foundational is happening. It will happen through repentance and the obedience of faith in God's purposes for the church to be the body of Jesus Christ that witnesses to the coming reign of God.

“There is a lot of anxiety in the churches today. Some relish this anxiety because they hope it will awaken us. We are told we must now name reality. Yet the church is foolish to live by anxiety. Usually anxiety about church decline turns us toward saving the institution rather than toward serving Christ and his mission. Anxiety-mongering may be well-intended, but is self-defeating. Faith is what is needed, the kind of faith that is centered in Christ who gives us the power to repent and to find joy and peace in doing his will. What we must name is the name of Christ himself.”

— Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, “Divine Providence and the Decline of the Churches” The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.

By all means, follow the link (above) and read the whole thing. It’s not long.

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