On Tuesday’s I’m going to be sharing with you about some area of technology related to the Church.
I thought I’d start by sharing with software that I use in ministry and find useful in my daily work as a pastor. Some of these are iPhone or iPad applications and other are for Mac or Windows computing platforms.
While I’m a dedicated Mac user I have a Microsoft Office 365 subscription because MS Office has pretty much become the standard set of programs for word processing and spreadsheets. If you send someone a Word document they almost always can read it. Also, Microsoft does now have a pretty nice version of Word that I use regularly on my iPad Pro.
On my iPad or iPhone I also use the OliveTree Bible app. While a lot of the material that OliveTree sells is from a definite conservative/evangelical slant, they have Bible versions including NRSV and the new Common English Bible. They also have available the Wesley Study Bible notes that can be used with any of the translations. If you took Greek in seminary you can get the New Testament in Koine Greek as well.
For email on my iPad and iPhone I use the Microsoft Outlook app primarily because it works so very well with gmail and allows you to schedule emails to reappear at a given day or time to serve as a reminder to respond. You can have your email come back later in the day, tomorrow, next week or whenever you decide.
I use a mileage app called “Trip Cubby” to keep track of my business mileage. And I find Dropbox to be an invaluable resource for file sharing between devices and other individuals. It is the fastest syncing of the different cloud applications out there.
This will be the first of my weekly articles related to United Methodism. Generally this will not be about UMC beliefs, history or how United Methodists do things (polity.) As I did not grow up in the United Methodist Church, I love learning more about this part o God’s family.
If someone asked me why I am a United Methodist, the one word answer would be “grace!” Not Grace UMC, the church that I am blessed to be appointed to, though I love Grace and its members. What I mean is the Wesleyan/Methodist understanding of God’s grace.
When United Methodists talk about God’s grace they often talk about it in three ways or in three movements. “Prevenient Grace”, “Justifying Grace” and “Sanctifying Grace.” Today I’ll just share some ideas about Prevenient Grace.
I first heard about Prevenient Grace on March 8, 1996. How can I be that specific? Because I was attending a Walk to Emmaus as a pilgrim, my first ever Walk. The Walk to Emmaus is a renewal program of the Upper Room of the UMC. It is modeled off of the Cursillo Movement. The Walk to Emmaus has fifteen “talks” or presentations on the Christian life. Five of those presentation are about grace and are given by clergy. I was attending the Walk to find an avenue of spiritual renewal for my local church. More that, I found an avenue of spiritual renewal for me!
The first of these talks is on Prevenient Grace. As a young pastor in another faith tradition, I had never heard of Prevenient Grace.
Prevenient Grace is God’s grace working in our lives before we respond or are even able to respond. For me, one of the best pictures of Prevenient Grace is found in infant baptism. When I baptize a baby or small child they, as yet, have not learned to respond to the love that is given them by family, parents and God the way they will be able to respond as the grow and learn. But God, like a parent, loves them just as much as God ever will even though they are not able to respond.
It is Prevenient Grace that carries us, nudges us and gently pushes us towards a relationship with God and accepting the love of God in our lives.
Prevenient Grace reminds me that it is not what I do or have done that causes God to love me. It is not how well I respond to God or how obedient I am able to be that leads God to call me God’s child. God has always loved you and me. God has always wanted a loving relationship with us. God never stops seeking out that relationship no matter how far we drift away.
Once I heard about Prevenient Grace I was hooked. I did not know it yet, and it took a number of years for the transformation to be realized, but twenty years ago last March I took my first steps to becoming a United Methodist.
After the Walk to Emmaus I decided I had to look up and find the author who had come up with this powerful concept of grace that describes the Scriptures so well. Of course, I ran right into John Wesley.
It took me some years to realize that the best way to be able to teach and display this concept in my own life was for me to become a United Methodist myself.
Fifteen years later I stood with others in front of the Bishop Trimble, of the Iowa Annual Conference, and answered the following question (among several others.)
“Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, accept its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrine contrary to God’s Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the Bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?”
And in response to God’s Prevenient Grace in all the years of my life from birth to now I was blessed to respond as a United Methodist. “I will, with the help of God!”
I am still hooked on God’s Prevenient Grace. I believe it is one of the most powerful messages of God’s love United Methodists get to share. God loves you, God has always loved you. You, even if you do not know it, are children of God and part of God’s family and God is just waiting for you to come home. God will never give up on you. God will never turn God’s back on you. God is always there for you!
Under the wings of God’s loving grace,
In the United Methodist Church we are dealing with issues of differing views on human sexuality. But we are also dealing with other issues in our polity that effect how we make descisions. How have we decided what is doctrine in the UMC? Why are laws on sexuality adopted as recent as the 1970s (A very recent date in Church history) a doctrine?
The United Methodist Church’s standards for doctrine are the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren, the Standard Sermons of John Wesley and Welsey’s Explanatory Notes on the New Testament. Contrary to popular opinion, the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed are not stated doctrinal standards for the Church, although we can use them in worship. I use the Apostles’ Creed whenever I perform a baptism and it is one of my favorite simple affirmations of faith.
Within our standards we have and allow considerable diversity. The Methodists did not break with the Anglicans over doctrine as much as we broke with them over the need to promote scriptural holiness. It was more about spiritual emphasis and our pursuits of God’s grace than about doctrine.
United Methodists include their doctrinal standards in the Book of Discipline. Those doctrinal standards are found in a section of the Discipline that is not intended to be changed or amended without the General Conference and a super majority of all the voting members of Annual Conferences around the world. That is where the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith are found. And, course you’d think that the statement that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” would be found in the restricted section as well. Well, you’d be wrong.
The statements related to homosexuality are found in parts of the Book of Discipline that are not necessarily doctrinal in nature. In some places it is primarily in a section about rules that related to the actions clergy can and cannot perform or who clergy can or cannot be.
So here is the $1000 question! Why aren’t the statements about homosexuality in the Book of Discipline’s restricted section? That one is easy. They are views of the General Conference that were added after the creation of the United Methodist Church. AND (in my opinion) rules that couldn’t possibly pass the test of being placed in the restricted section when it comes to enough votes in General Conference and all the Annual Confernces around the world.
In other words, something that is basically considered doctrine is not in the doctrinal standards because it is an add-on that was placed in the Discipline in a place where it could get past the General Conference without being placed in the restricted section. It is NEW doctrine. It is doctrine written since I was born (and I’m not all that old!). While the rest of our doctrinal standards are largely as old as Methodism itself. Are you bothered by the idea of NEW Christian doctrine? Well you ought to be.
So this brings up a question I’ve yet to get satisfactorily answered. Why is it allowable for the General Conference to circumvent the doctrinal standards of the Church by placing new doctrine outside the restrictive section? Why hasn’t the Judicial Council ruled that the General Conference should not be able to sneak new doctrine into the Discipline and thereby circumventing our Discipline by inserting doctrine outside this section of the Discipline? Does the ability of the GC to pass new doctrine by a simple majority and push it into a “rules” section of the Discipline enganger the ability of United Methodists to maintain our original doctrinal standards? Finally, should someone be mounting a challenge to the constitutionality of novel doctrines found in the Discipline never before found in Methodism before the 1970s because they have been slipped into other parts of the Discipline? (If this has not already been done?)
Here is what the Articles of Religion says about making doctrines not found or provable by scripture.
“The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” (Articles of Religion Article V – Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation)
My best interpretation of the scriptures based on years of study of the Bible and everything I can get my hands on about issues of sexuality are that homosexuality is NOT incompatible with Christian teaching. And it can not be proven to me in such a way that I can or will believe it as an article of faith or otherwise. Nor is such an article of faith found in the doctrinal standards we adopted as a Church when we become The United Methodist Church.
I think it is time to put away the parliamentary choices that allowed the UMC to create new doctrine that has pushed the Church into a 40+ year fight. How about we return to the unifying doctrine we held before 1972? It was good enough for the UMC then, it was good enough for the Methodists, the EUB and Wesley before. Why are we fighting to protect Newbie Doctrine? Let us return to the Doctrinal Standards that we circumvented in order to adopt Church law that descriminates against and hurts other people!
It was just announced this past week that Iowa’s new Bishop will be our first woman Bishop, the newly consecrated Bishop Laurie Haller. (She is one of the four new pictures pictured on the far right.)
One of the blessings I’ve experience in becoming a United Methodist is the greater role of women in the ranks of the clergy. American Baptists, my former faith, supports women in ministry at a regional and national level. But the local churches, who choose their own pastors, have historically kept the ratio of female to male clergy far too low!
While United Methodists have a way to go in full parity of male and female clergy, I have been pleased that when I attend clergy meetings in Sioux City and other UMC venues the presence of the leadership of women is strong and growing! Having Bishop Haller leading us is yet another way of telling the world that we value the gifts of women as Elders, Deacons, Pastors, preachers and Bishops!
Making sure that a diverse group of people are placed in the leadership of the Church is important for what we can learn from people with many gifts and graces. It is also important to model the diversity we hope for the Church in that leadership.
We are not yet fully where we should be in recognizing the gifts of women. But I’m glad we are on the journey!
This may be nearly my shortest blog post ever. But given the continued fight over the place of LGBTQI persons in the United Methodist Church, I just want to say clearly without ambiguity that I am an ally of the LGBTQI community.
What I mean is that I believe in full inclusion of LGBTQI people in the life of the Church at all levels. I believe God loves all, welcomes all and calls all into his joyful participation in the life of the Church.
If you are a friend of mine you probably already knew this about me. But now is not a time for wishy washiness, or equivocation from any of us who care. Now is the time for people to say what they believe and hold in their hearts and say it clearly, unwaveringly, and lovingly.
God loves all. And, all means all.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with me nor do I need everyone to agree with me. But I do expect that we each respect each other and each other’s understandings of the faith, the Bible and the work of the gospel. I believe my calling to be obedient to the Holy Scriptures and to Jesus Christ require me to take this stand.
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” – John Wesley, founder of Methodism.
I hope that was abundantly clear. 🙂
Timothy D. Bonney, OSL
Just a month ago I wrote a blog article about my fear that we prize our guns too highly in this country.
This week we had a two horrible shooting of young black men by a police officer. And then the another horrible shooting in Dallas in which a number of police officers were killed. Frankly I’m stunned by the violence, racism and bigotry I’m seeing in all of the events above.
We have so many issue right now to deal with as a nation:
Guns, guns and more guns!
It has become apparent to me that anyone, I mean anyone, can get a gun in this country. People on terrorist watch lists can get a gun. Mentally deranged individuals can get a gun. People who have been watched by the FBI can get a gun. Bigots and haters can get lots of guns. And you can get a gun faster than you can get a driver’s license, faster than you can get a marriage license in many places, and faster than it makes any sense at all. Isn’t it time to start asking why we are letting everyone in this country be armed to the teeth? Isn’t it time for a sane discussion on guns? How many mass shootings do we have to have for this conversation to lead to a change?
Racism is alive and well in the USA. The statistics are clear that if you are a racial minority than you are more likely to be harassed by law enforcement. (I’m not trying to attack the police here. There are thousands of fine police.) We have to face up to the problem that some racists have managed to become police and that the #blacklivesmatter leaders are crying out for change. As a nation we have not yet solved the problem of racism. We are not even close.
A Culture of Violence
Last night we had another mass shooting in which a number of police officers were killed in a ambush kind of attack during a peaceful protest. I woke up to the nightmare stories of fine law enforcement officers who were there to protect people, getting shot by an armed gunman. The story is still being told. But it is clear to me that we now have a culture were people have come to believe that the way to fix violence is more violence. We have people who tell us that we’d have less people killed if even more people had a gun. But that seems more like a way to turn every public venue into shooting gallery.
Religious Bigotry too!
And finally, we are also dealing with religious bigotry as well. Some people are spreading hate for people just because they are different or believe differently. Christians are going to have to come to grips with the fact that much of what many Christians say about LGBT people contributes to hate and violence. When you devalue people then you make them a target. This is true for race, this is true for sexual minorities too. LGBT kids are much more likely to be bullied in school. LGBTQ people are much more likely to be assaulted. And while we are worrying about bathroom politics our sons and daughters are getting gunned down. Then we miss the point and blame all Muslims for the actions of a few.
As Amos says in this weeks lectionary reading, God is holding up a plumb line to see if we measure up to God’s standards. Right now we have a culture to change. We need to convince the world that violence only begets violence. We need to share the grace of God with all people and share the love of Christ and remind people that that love is for all people. If we preach anything less than God’s love for everyone we are preaching a false gospel.