8 Things the Church Needs to Say

8thingsthechurchneedstosay(RNS) If Christians stopped bickering about church, presenting sex as a first-order concern, telling other people how to lead their lives and lending our name to minor-league politicians, what would we have to say?

We need to figure that out, because we are wearing out our welcome as tax-avoiding, sex-obsessed moral scolds and amateur politicians.

In fact, I think we are getting tired of ourselves. Who wants to devote life and loyalty to a religion that debates trifles and bullies the outsider?

So what would we say and do? No one thing, of course, because we are an extraordinarily diverse assembly of believers. But I think there are a few common words we would say.

  1. We would say the name “Jesus.” We might mean different things by that name, but he is the center, the reason we exist.
  2. Allowing ample room for our diversity, we would say what we mean by faith in God. Not how right we are and how wrong others are, but an I-message: Here’s why I believe in God.
  3. We would tell stories about God’s impact on our lives. Not grand doctrines, not airtight theories, not definitions of who’s inside the circle and who’s outside, but stories of personal encounter.
  4. We would listen to other stories, respectfully, not defensively, eager to hear what our fellow Christian has to say.
  5. We would each tell as honestly as we can how we are trying to lead our lives in the light of our encounters and stories. We would sketch the bridge between faith and action.
  6. We would tell what we see in the world — not in the woe-is-me, sky-is-falling, Satan-is-winning manner people expect from us, but just what we see and how we think God cares about it.
  7. We would speak of hope, a durable, solid-rock hope that God is God, and God can use us to make a difference.
  8. We would talk of joy. Not giddiness, not even happiness, as the world understands happiness, but that deeper response to God that feels whole and peaceful.

Personally, I think these eight things are what we ache to say. They are why we walked in the door of a church in the first place. They are why we stay, despite abundant reasons for leaving.

Everyone has a theory about “why people are leaving the church,” “why millennials don’t come to church,” “why churches are dying” and “what’s wrong with society.”

Personally, I think we should stop worrying about institutional outcomes — especially outcomes that we hope will prove we were right all along — and try instead just to be hopeful, joyful, active people of faith.

I think we should take our parts in the great political debates — power and wealth, after all, were Jesus’ primary concern — but then agree that, whether X or Y gets elected, God will still grieve our cruelties and sufferings, and we will all have much work to do as believers.

Whatever the label — progressive or conservative, contemporary or traditional, denominational or nondenominational — we will each have something unique and necessary to contribute.

There is more binding us than dividing us. For division comes from our small and selfish places. Binding comes from God.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com.)

Religion News Service

RNS is owned by Religion News LLC, a non-profit, limited liability corporation based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to provide in-depth, non-sectarian coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas.

Leave a Reply

75 Comments on "8 Things the Church Needs to Say"

applications-education-miscellaneous.png
The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Bill Clinton is certainly a better witness for Christianity than those who advocate hatred on the basis of their prejudices.

dave werner
Guest
Thanks, Ken, for your many efforts here to offer a step forward. FWIW, regarding conversation around “covenant,” i offer these words from the BOOK OF DISCIPLINE 2012, Para. 125: Guided by the Holy Spirit, United Methodist churches throughout the world are called afresh into a covenant of mutual commitment based on shared mission, equity, and hospitality. In covenant with God and with each other: We affirm our unity in Christ, and take faithful steps to live more fully into what it means to be a worldwide church in mission for the transformation of the world. We commit ourselves to crossing… Read more »
Ken
Guest

Thank you, Dave.

Wes Andrews
Guest

Yes, Dave thanks. I wish I had thought of specifically quoting the Discipline in my responses.

Wes Andrews
Guest

I disagree that the details of belief don’t matter.

Wes Andrews
Guest

Bill Clinton was a great progressive theologian…. 😉

james
Guest

It still all boils down to what “the meaning of “is” is. The “change,” if you will, in Father/son/Holy Spirit’s Message to HIS church has NEVER changed. Just because we humans want what “feels good” to be blessed by the Trinity does not make it so. Father/Son/Holy Spirit is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow–not matter how much “we” want Him to change–because “we” want so many of our “wrongs” to be “rights.”

Yep!! It all goes back to what in the world does “is” mean………………………
II Chronicles 7:14

Kent Wilfong
Guest
Ken said; “If you don’t hate homosexuals, Wes, why do you insist upon denying them basic human rights we all take for granted?” Ken, what basic human rights are being denied to homosexuals? Are you talking about marriage? I was not aware that marriage was a “right”. It seems to me we need to rethink what basic human rights are. The Declaration of Independence says we are entitled to ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness”. It didn’t say anything about the attainment of Happiness. So again I ask you, what fundamental or basic rights are the homosexuals being denied?
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
It sounds like you do not understand much about the civil rights movement and the laws and regulations which resulted therefrom. Primarily, these include the right to be free from discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, education, public accommodation, access to public services, and so on. Right now in the United States, the extreme right wing is championing certain wedding service providers including photographers, bakers, and wedding venues, who have violated civil rights laws by refusing access to LGBT customers. The Religious Reich has demanded a “religious exemption” to enforcement of said laws. Now, let us be clear, those… Read more »
Mark
Guest

He does not want equal rights, he wants special rights.

Ken
Guest

We are denying them the right to pursue ordination in the same way that we pursue ordination. We are denying the same right to marry that we take for granted. No, I am not talking about “special rights.” I’m talking about the same rights that we have. If you can’t see that as a denial of the right to pursue happiness, you are in some kind of self justifying denial.

Kent Wilfong
Guest
Ken, I see you are passionate about this subject, and I again, I want to apologize if it seems I have belittled you in any way. Some times my idea of fun comes out snarky. I want you to know that while I disagree with you a many points, I respect what you are saying and feeling. It seems we may have much to learn from each other. I see the whole Bible as a love letter from God that leads us all to salvation and the church as the place that makes application of the Bible possible. I see… Read more »
Ken
Guest

Okay, thank you, Kent.

Kevin
Guest

If ordination was actually a right then we would need a process. It is a privilege granted to those who are called and meet the criteria established by The UMC.

Wes Andrews
Guest

I agree ordination is certainly NOT a right. Sometimes it is a blessing and sometimes it is ….. a curse! But it is definitely NOT a right!

Kent Wilfong
Guest

Interesting that in those 8 things there is no mention of Transformation, Salvation, Redemption, Grace or even Sacrifice and Resurrection. Church is to lead us to a closer relationship with Christ, and thus bring us together as the body of Christ. Church is not a place of indulgence. Acceptance of Christ as our redeemer is the point. By the way, you didn’t even mention the Cross.

Ken
Guest

It’s interesting that in your list of theological abstractions, there is nothing whatsoever about Jesus. It is interesting that you find reasons to object to a list that has talking about Jesus as the very first thing the church needs to be doing more.

Ken
Guest

“The Bible” is impossible without reason and experience. Without them, there is no Bible. Writing is impossible without reason and experience; so is reading and understanding.

Kent Wilfong
Guest

The “theological abstractions” I had mentioned have everything to do with Jesus’s acts in and God’s plan for our salvation. If we want to have a conversation in church, then let us talk about Jesus Christ and his self-denial love for us that offers us forgiveness of our sins. What you call abstract, I see as fundamental truths.

Ken
Guest

What the United Methodist Church needs to do is get serious about the Quadrilateral, especially the Reason and Experience planks, and stop making an idol out of our favorite scriptural proof texts.

Kent Wilfong
Guest
Ken, maybe you should look at scripture and tradition. The point of the Quadrilateral is to balance our understanding of scripture so as to discern our call as followers of Christ. You seem to focus on reason and experience and yet marginalize scripture and tradition. Actually, maybe a study in the Wesleyan Standards would help you understand who Methodist ‘s are. To borrow a statement from Steven Mansker; “We are more than a name, we are a people who are in training to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” I… Read more »
Ken
Guest

Kent, I know at least as much about scripture and tradition as you do. I have spent as much, or more, of my life looking at scripture and tradition as you have. I have studied Wesleyan Standards in as much, or greater, depth than you have.

There. Now that we’ve established that, what is your point?

Kent Wilfong
Guest

Ken, if I have upset you, I apologize. It was not my intent. Since you have an in depth understanding of what I am talking about, then you can understand that my point is about transformation and salvation. The 8 statements in this article said nothing about being transformed into the body of Christ nor salvation through the blood of Christ. For Wesley, this was the point.

I have however, enjoyed our rhetoric on this matter.

james
Guest

How about a Sacrificial Lamb who Bled-Died-was Buried and defeated the enemy in Resurrection and calls us all to the Foot of His Cross to be washed in His Blood…….

That pretty much wraps up into Prevenient-Justifying-Sanctifying Grace, don’t you think?

But then, the Father/Son/Holy Spirit’s shed blood is not a “cool” thing to mention in the umc. Thank you William for your post……………………….

Wes Andrews
Guest
Ken, Are you suggesting Progressive clergy are, in fact, not disobeying the Book of Discipline?
 Are you claiming Progressive clergy are NOT betraying the covenant commitment to defend the doctrine and discipline of the UMC?

 Are you unaware that Progressive people (clergy and laity) have not attacked those who disagree with name calling including the terms: homophobes and hate-mongers? Even in the UMR comments?
 Are you unaware that UM churches are being turned upside down by all of the politics pushed on them by progressives? Even Shaefer’s church is in decline based on interviewa with church members published in the… Read more »
Ken
Guest
In the first place, Wes—With regard to the “covenant,” there isn’t any covenant. A majority reading its own prejudices into scripture, writing their prejudices into law, and demanding that the entire connection obey that law, with no allowance whatsoever for principled disagreement is not a “covenant.” Yes, Wes, I know very well that progressives have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So have you—you’re not any better than anyone else. You are upset by the label, “homophobe.” Well, what is your word for someone who hates and fears homosexuals? Yes, I believe that progressives do honor the… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
“ there isn’t any covenant.” It’s convenient that you claim there’s no covenant. (Romans 16:17) Paul warns us about “those who cause division.” I made a commitment. I answered Wesley’s Historic Questions, along side others. We committed to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the UMC. I consider those vows to God and to the UMC. Of course in a marriage when one of the partners says, “vows, what vows,” I guess that person didn’t really commit. I reject that the majority are prejudiced, they are faithful to Scripture and to the same interpretation that has been reaffirmed by all… Read more »
Ken
Guest
In the first place, with regard to homosexuality, there is no Hebrew or Greek word that translates directly as “homosexual/homosexuality.” ‘Homosexual’ is an English word coined some time in the 19th century. It reflects understanding about human sexual orientation that has come to light centuries after the scriptures were written. The stories of Sodom and Gommorrah are about rape, not homosexuality. Leviticus texts falsely interpreted as referencing “homosexuality” do not refer to homosexuality as we have come to understand the phenomenon; they refer to same sex relations between heterosexual people. Paul’s diatribe in the opening chapter of Romans refers to… Read more »
Ken
Guest
No, I did not “put up a smoke screen,” Wes. You asked me a question about “polygamy” and “boundaries.” I answered it. I dealt with the ‘boundaries’ question, Wes. You heard nothing that I said. My answer made you uncomfortable, so you write if off as a “lofty sounding” evasion. I see Christianity as a religion based primarily upon Grace. It seems to me that you do not. You see it as a religion based upon unthinking adherence to rules that you extract from the Bible. Jesus, to you, is nothing more than a religious leader who died and left… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
Ken, we are simply talking past each other. I invited you to steer clear of the polygamy issue so I could see if you have any boundaries in regard to sexuality or marriage. My request is something that perhaps you don’t wish to deal with. Instead of addressing my question you use polygamy as a smoke screen of sorts that avoids being “pinned down” on your values. I believe UM clergy make a covenant with God and one another when we become Elders is FULL CONNECTION, you don’t. I believe it is possible to find a common Biblical TRUTH that… Read more »
Ken
Guest
When I think of “polygamy,” I think right away of Jacob. Jacob was a “flaming polygamist.” Apparently, there was no boundary with regard to polygamy in Jacob’s lifetime. He was a “flaming polygamist”:–two wives, and, with the permission and collusion of his two “official” wives, he took on their two maids as lovers. All four women bore children by him. Those children are our spiritual and religious ancestors; one of them, Judah, was the great-great-great-etc. grandfather of Jesus. Jacob was a flaming polygamist–and yet I regard him as a spiritual role-model. His famous wrestle with God is a major model… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest

I just want to know where you define the boundary. It’s not a trick question. You didn’t answer my question perhaps due to the way I framed it. You get to pick the boundary it doesn’t have to be polygamy. But what would it be and what is your reasoning?

I really am curious.

Ken
Guest

Why are you asking me that? It seems to me that you are assuming a slippery slope: recognizing the validity of same- sex marriage leads inevitably to polygamy. It’s as if someone were to say to Jesus, “If you declare all foods clean, next thing you know, people are going to be eating dirt!”

I think same-sex marriage and polygamy are two entirely separate issues. Do you see people in the church demanding the right to be polygamous? Because Jacob and Abraham and David and Solomon and others were polygamous? I don’t see that happening.

Wes Andrews
Guest

So is polygamy too far? Do you stop the options there?

Ken
Guest
“And by your logic if I am biased beyond any objectivity or ability to truly know what is right, best and good, then that is your plight as well….” Yes, it is! We are all biased, none of us has unrestricted access to some pure and unadulterated “Truth.” Truth is revealed to us. We do not earn it or attain it through some exercise of pure reason. That is all the more reason why we need to be in prayer, individually, and in conversation with one another. It seems to me that you are setting up a false either/or: Either… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
Ken, then, based on your approach, I guess everyone is so biased that there is no solid ground whatsoever. And by your logic if I am biased beyond any objectivity or ability to truly know what is right, best and good, then that is your plight as well. Of course, I reject this, because not all perceptions of truth are equal. I think that also using your logic, if Kittle et al is so easily dismissed then your preferred scholars are equally tenable and ultimately unreliable. So my options are: 1. trust that sexuality and marriage is safest in the… Read more »
Ken
Guest
Kittle, Thayer, et al. simply followed the biases of their day, and read them into their scholarship. No one is above biases. There is nothing wrong with this, it is just the way it is. We all read our biases into everything we do–you do, I do,everybody does. We go wrong when we assume that our biases are not just that, but some kind of absolute, universal Truth. That is what I see you doing. You label your biases “Traditional,” and “Orthodox,” and place them beyond reproach. There is nothing sacrosanct about “tradition,” or “orthodoxy,” for that matter–slavery was a… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
Thank you for the clarification of your use of diatribe. In regard to Kittle among many others. While I believe I have a very good education, I consider Kittle and many others support and confirm that definition. Respectfully I doubt you or I have superior knowledge and breadth of study to them and so many others. So I will continue to trust their scholarship which I believe is not bias or prejudiced. Homosexually was not even an issue at the time of that scholarship and so their scholarship was not tainted by emotions or a reaction to culture. I also… Read more »
Ken
Guest

I don’t use the label ‘diatribe’ as a pejorative; to me it is simply a rhetorical tool, and a very effective one—one that Paul uses often. But you are absolutely right: Romans 1 is certainly not diatribe.

My only other response is that Kittle, Thayer and Smith offer us interpretation; interpretation based on their particular biases—as are my interpretations and your interpretations and everybody’s interpretations.

Wes Andrews
Guest
First, Ken, I do appreciate you responding. (Sorry for the delay in responding. Ministry filled my day!) “In the first place, with regard to homosexuality, there is no Hebrew or Greek word that translates directly as “homosexual/homosexuality” I agree with you partially that Greek/Hebrew doesn’t always translate into English narrowly. But it doesn’t have to they did have an understanding of moral behavior. Their understanding, informed by Scripture, never endorsed male plus male sexuality. Arsenokoites is the word used in 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10. Kittle, Thayer and Smith, and other Greek dictionaries provide the meaning: a male… Read more »
Ken
Guest
No, Kent, what I am referring to is a Covenant between equal members in a community. One “party” to the covenant has written its prejudices into law and forced them upon the other party, with no allowances made for principled disagreement. The covenant I’m talking about isn’t about God and sinners, it concerns the human, all too human document known as the UM Discipline. You’re not paying attention. I’m not sure what you mean with regard to my use of logic. Your comments do not at all respond to the argument I’m making. And, actually, Kent…no, the “physical aspect” of… Read more »
Kent Wilfong
Guest
Ken, I am quite entertained with your use of what can only be loosely called logic. Your picking and choosing and twisting of terms and scripture passages would make a contortionist green with envy. What is even more ironic is your accusations of others doing the very thing you are doing. Yes, the Old Testament talked about sodomy and never used the word “homosexual”. But, does not the physical aspect of a homosexual relationship require sodomy to be practiced. Marriage is often used as the bench mark at which physical intimacy can be shared, so in essence the same-sex marriage… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
“The current UMC stance isn’t “based on scripture”; it is based on a false interpretation of scripture that makes the Bible say things it doesn’t say.” Please provide examples with Scripture references to make your point. I’m am interested in seeing exactly what you mean. Regarding the covenant relationship. I and all the clergy I know very intentionally made a covenant when we became Elders in full connection. My guess is you didn’t think you were making a covenant, if in fact you are clergy. If you aren’t clergy perhaps you aren’t close enough to the process to know about… Read more »
Ken
Guest
The current UMC stance isn’t “based on scripture”; it is based on a false interpretation of scripture that makes the Bible say things it doesn’t say. It is also based on a selective interpretation of scripture that requires absolute obedience to some passages while it absolutely ignores others. You don’t “trust the authority of scripture,” Wes, you trust only yourself and your own interpretations and your own priorities. Your remarks about “covenant” don’t even begin to address the concerns that I raised. Writing your prejudices into law, and demanding blind obedience to those laws, and making no allowance whatsoever for… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest

Thanks, TEHC….. blessings to you. God is real. God is more than enough……

Ken
Guest

Actually, Christianity, properly understood, isn’t centered around the Bible. We are “Christ-ians,” not “Biblians.” The teaching and example of Christ is our model–even when it conflicts with and overturns biblical passages that are no longer appropriate for the times, if indeed they ever were.

Ken
Guest
Mark, what I meant is that “Christ-ianity” is first and foremost about Christ, not the Bible. The teaching and example of Christ shows us what matters and what is no longer appropriate for the times. For example, when Jesus declares all foods clean, he establishes the principle that there are parts of scripture that no longer apply. In his teachings about divorce and remarriage, he tells some Pharisees outright that the Bible does not always reflect the perfect will of God. In passages in John he chastises his opponents for ‘searching the scriptures,” and yet failing to see what is… Read more »
Mark
Guest

If not from the Bible, then where do we glean most of Jesus’ teachings?

Since you seem to have some special revelation regarding “properly understood” Christianity—while dismissing those who point to more concrete examples of Christian teaching—we look forward to your answer. We would also like to know your process for determining which Biblical passages are no longer valid. Thanks.

Ken
Guest
You say “most of Jesus’ teachings”–why do you not say all of Jesus’ teachings? You acknowledge that we don’t get “all” of Jesus from the Bible; where would *you* say we get the “rest” of Jesus’ teachings which, according to your own formulation, are not in the Bible? Where do you get the notion that I have “some special revelation regarding ‘properly understood’ Christianity”–what do you mean by that? Finally, how do *you* determine which biblical passages are no longer valid? You don’t follow all of the Bible any more than anyone else does. How do you decide which biblical… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Ken, YOU are the one who brought up the notion of “properly understood” Christianity and “biblical passages that are no longer appropriate.” I was asking for clarification from you. I can only assume from your diversion that you are unsure what you meant.

Ken
Guest

No, not a “non-answer”; a request for clarification. How about it? How do you decide which biblical passages to obey and which to ignore? Have you received some kind of ‘special revelation’ yourself? And what about your statement “most” of Jesus’ teachings? What about the “rest” of them?

Mark
Guest

Nice non-answer.

Melissa
Guest

Most of these comments just prove Mr. Ehlich’s point. Jesus was not about dividing people, above all.

Ken
Guest

The division of sheep and goats is based on one criterion: kindness in the face of human misery. It has nothing to do with correct doctrine. It has nothing to do with opinions about the Bible. It has nothing to do, for that matter, with whether or not you are a Christian. The thing that utterly separates one from God—that sends you to ‘hell,’ in other words—is hardness of heart in there face of human misery.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Well, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it does. If that is so, then there are absolutely no human being in Heaven nor will there ever be.

Ken
Guest

According to Matthew 25. 31-46, no. What separates one from God is hardness of heart in the face of human misery. “Personal, unrepented sin” isn’t even in the picture.

Mark
Guest

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:51)

“He who is not with me is against me.” (Matthew 12:30).

Jonathan
Guest
I have an idea. Why don’t we get rid of the Ten Commandments and anything else in the Bible that shares with us God’s wishes on how he wants us to live? Are you serious it’s not the God or the Church that’s getting political it’s the people who believe and are trying to sell this crap. God set out laws, PERIOD!! If we don’t talk about them and try to abide to them how can we be followers of God? Do everyone a favor. Enjoy your sin by yourself and quit tryin to make everyone in the Church okay… Read more »
Ken
Guest

We don’t need to “get rid of the 10 Commandments.” Jesus already did it for us. Jesus says we need only concern ourselves with two commandments.

Mark
Guest

Matthew 5:17 “Do NOT think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did NOT come to abolish but to fulfill.”

Ken
Guest

He did not come to abolish the Law; neither did he come to push for blind obedience to proof texts. The Great Commandment is a case in point. Fulfillment of the Law amounts to reducing he Law and the Prophets—the Bible—to two commandments. Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it.

wpDiscuz
Google+
%d bloggers like this: