Thanks for pressing on through our Questions and Answers series. I have several questions left over so I am going to try to get through as many as possible with as succinct an answer as possible. I hope this works for all of my readers. So on with the questions!
Why does God not reveal herself? Our God is the same god as the God of the Muslims and Jews. Why does she not reveal herself and allow us to unite with other religions?
In the Christian tradition we believe that God has revealed herself/himself in the person of Jesus Christ. God became incarnate or flesh and dwelt among us in order to experience human need as well as to reveal to us how we are to love God and each other. Yes God is the God of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob – the God of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity but the distinction comes in the affirmation or denial of Jesus as fully divine as well as fully human. We will not be able to unite with Judaism and Islam because of their denial of Jesus as the fully divine Son of God.
Why aren’t Christians more united as people of God? (i.e. why infighting among denominations)
Simple answer – we can’t agree on one interpretation of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, scripture, tradition, and the nature of the church. Because of the time lapse between the advent of Jesus, the ascension into heaven, the birth of the church, and now, we have had a lot of time to think, discuss and write about these things. And because of our diversity of experience, knowledge, education, training, etc. we have developed different schools of theological interpretation and reflection. The only thing that will unify all of us is the return of Jesus Christ and the full expression of God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
What does it mean to be a Methodist and how is it different from other Christian denominations?
Two things in particular represent this . First is our understanding of the sacraments – Communion and Baptism. We believe that God is the active agent in both of the sacraments and as a means of grace God is extending His grace to each of us as we come to participate in them. We also believe that God’s grace is experienced differently based upon our relationship with God.
1) For our infants, children and those who do not have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we believe they experience God’s prevenient grace (comes before you are aware or able to understand it) and this signifies that God has incorporated them into salvation’s history, claimed them as His own, and awaits their public profession – usually at their confirmation.
2) God’s justifying grace is what makes our relationship right with God – at our moment of publically confessing our sin and asking for forgiveness God redeems us and His grace through the sacraments confirms this.
3) But God does not desire for us to stay an infant in faith – God’s sanctifying grace is what moves into maturity as we learn, grow, and serve.
That brings me to the second part of what makes us distinct. Methodism believes in what is called the works of mercy and the works of piety. We believe in a spiritual discipline or practice that enables us to love God fully and love others as we love ourselves. The works of mercy are to do no harm to another person and to seek to do only good for others. The works of piety include daily reading and study of scripture, daily prayer, fasting, Christian conferencing and participation in communion. Practice of these spiritual disciplines are distinctly Wesleyan and Methodist.
Now other denominations have bits and pieces of these practices while others have a similar theological understanding of the sacraments but Methodism is the denomination that couples the two together.
Why is it that churches can’t accept gay marriage when Christians are supposed to love everyone?
I will reiterate what I said earlier- it deals with our vast interpretation of scripture. Because Christianity is not unified under the umbrella of a central theological interpretation we will continue to have a vast understanding of God’s desires for human sexuality among other things. While some churches will actively promote equality for committed same sex couples, others will find scriptural interpretation and rationale to stand against it. At North Star we are a church that is open to all people and God’s table welcomes all people. While the United Methodist Book of Discipline prohibits any pastor from officiating over a same sex union or blessing, it does not exclude these same persons from community life and worship. Again, this is one of those issues we will never come to a consensus on this side of Jesus’ return.
Why are people not more open to one another? Is it fear? Are we insecure? Are we indifferent and just don’t care?
The world is simply a different place than it was 30, 40, 50, 60+ years ago. We work longer hours in order to succeed. We have more resources today – our kids can be in multiple extra-curricular activities, we can travel, and we can afford recreation. Finally, we have less time to enjoy life and to enjoy one another. I don’t think it is fear, insecurity or indifference – it is more a matter of focusing on career, family, and self to the point that we are nearly out of time and energy for anyone else. NOW – this is my assumption and it could certainly be wrong.
Why do we frustrate about finishing God’s will for our life? Why is it so difficult? Where is the fellowship that leads [to] the manifestation of God’s people?
At the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus hands to his disciples the mission that God had initiated through him. God’s will for humanity is salvation – God’s will for each of us is to participate in the work of salvation. Why we frustrate and find this difficult may be simply that we don’t know how we fit into this work. While fellowship will certainly unite us and make us stronger friends, it will not necessarily empower us to accomplish God’s mission. Also we exist for more than just fellowship – we exist for the transformation of the world. This takes each of us knowing what God has gifted us to do and actually utilizing our gifts for God’s work.
Why is the church satisfied with their comfort zone with no concern to move to a higher plane, even doctrinal indiscretions?
I have read this question several times simply because I could answer it several different ways. For the author of this question – it appears that there are some other things embedded in it and not enough clarity around others so I am going to tackle two words – comfort zone.
Human nature – we like dwelling in the realm of this we know and know every well. It is discomforting to have to operate in arenas that we are not educated or trained in. While I operate well in the field of theology I would be way out of my field of expertise and comfort level if I tried to operate on a heart. I think we simply stick with what we know or can even learn; we create a comfort zone and really don’t move beyond it. What is human nature infiltrates the church since we are an entity comprised of humans. Based upon social dynamics we create an atmosphere of comfort and depending upon the resident/assigned theologian we can find ourselves being consoled, challenged or something in between.
Are we truly living our lives as God has intended? (With respect to church and service).
The one thing every one of us should be able to agree upon is that all of us flawed. None of us are perfect. When Jesus was asked what the most important part of the law was he said “love God with all that you are and love your neighbor as you do yourself.” Simply stated none of us are living our lives as God fully intended because none of us are capable of total devotion to God and others. Our nature is predicated to think of self first and we act upon this more than not. However, John Wesley encourages us to attend to the works of mercy and the works of piety anticipating that God’s Spirit will transform us and bring us to Christian perfection in this life. Just because we aren’t something doesn’t mean that we stay where we are.
Can we have more “service” Sundays? (like September 11, 2011)
Yes. We will have our second annual SERVE event the second weekend of September. If you have a passion for service ministries and want to help, please contact Tricia DeCamp. If you would like more opportunities, then it is incumbant upon you to initiate and get involved in the planning and facilitating. I think a number of our folks would join in the effort!
Can we lead our people in a growing sense of discipleship which [will] enable them to better witness to their faith? How do we balance reaching out (evangelism) with respecting people’s privacy and not being intrusive and obnoxious?
I think we can the church can help people understand God’s story and how it relates to their own story. And I believe we can teach people how to tell their story particularly in regards to their faith journey. What we cannot teach is the details of the individual story or the reflex that comes from listening to God’s Spirit. At some point you just have to start telling your story and especially to share what God has done for you through Jesus Christ. Here are some examples of how to share your faith story:
1) Some of the most caring people I know are folks that I go to church with. I had a personal issue and I asked for prayer – we have a whole team of people as well as an email list of folks that prayed for me.
2) I was recently hospitalized and the amazing thing was that folks from my church came to see me, sent me cards, and even cooked a couple of meals for me. I really feel sad for anyone who does not have that kind of community around them.
3) I have a friend who is going through marital trouble and it got my spouse and I to thinking – what are we doing to preserve our marriage? We signed up for and attended a 6 week study through our church and it has done wonders to improve our marriage.
The key is to think about the area of church that impacts your life and to tell your story! When you tell your story you strike a balance that respects someone elses privacy. It takes awareness…the subtle moments in life when a door cracks open for you to speak about your experience and then to let the Holy Spirit do the rest. That is how we share our faith with others.
Well that is enough for this week. It looks we will have two more blog entries and then all of the questions you asked will have some sort of answer! Thanks for reading and of course your comments are welcome.
Blessings for the journey.