The following remarks were delivered by UMAction Director John Lomperis on June 15 at the annual lunch of Cal-Pac Renewal, the evangelical renewal caucus within the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Activism: energetic commitment to doing the kingdom work of evangelism and combatting social ills in the name of Jesus
Methodist Article of Religion # X explains that “good works … follow after justification” and “cannot put away our sins” but “spring out of a true and lively faith” and “are pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ.”
Titus 3:14 – “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.”
I’m going to take a somewhat different tack with this one.
Our denomination already tend be very active, from the congregational level on up.
Kevin Watson, a professor of Wesleyan Studies at Seattle Pacific University – now approved for United Methodist seminarians – summarizes the problem with our current busy-bee habits:
“When we are most passionate, we are too often talking about what we have done for God, not what God has done for us.
It is not good enough to be in favor of doing nice things, even for God or in the name of God.
We are dying. And it is because we are not certain we believe the world needs Jesus. But if the world doesn’t need Jesus, it surely doesn’t need us.
The world doesn’t need us to do something for it. The need is far more desperate and devastating than that. We are not enough. We never have been enough, even in our glory days. The world needs – people need – a relationship with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Without a firm foundation for understanding why we do all of our activities in the world, we do not have much basis to trust that they are glorifying to God or even ultimately very helpful for our neighbors.
So a primary “activity” must be prayer – recognizing our own utter inadequacy and dependence.
But with a solid foundation of Scripture, the cross of Christ, and a zeal for conversion, our faith can and does drive us out into energetic cooperation in the mission of God, out of love for Him and the people in our communities, spreading the Gospel and helping make our neighbors’ lives tangibly better, all in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
This work is so urgent that we need to look beyond the myopic, shrinking United Methodist and mainline bubble to learn about what’s working and who we can partner with in other churches. Even if they don’t agree with us on issues like dispensationalism, young-Earth creationism, or women’s ordination. If you actually believe what your Cal-Pac colleagues say about how y’all are so “ultra-conservative,” please prepare for some whiplash as you work with Christians who would view you as very liberal for how we may feel about those issues I just listed. But Dickerson identifies the “splintering and splitting” nature of American evangelicalism as one of its greatest weaknesses. And so many of our neighbors are dying in theirs sins and suffering in all kinds of ways that we cannot afford to avoid constructively working together in the mission of God with fellow believers, despite disagreements over issues that are important but still within the bounds of biblical orthodoxy.
And if an MFSA chapter can have a denominational outsider like Jeremiah Wright speak at its annual conference banquet, why can’t Cal-Pac Renewal, every now and then, invite a pastor of a thriving, non-mainline evangelical church in Southern California to speak at one of your future annual conference lunches? Something to think about.
We must not let the secular world around us dictate our values or even our priorities for how we serve them. But especially in light of the growing distaste our secular neighbors have for evangelical Christianity, as Dickerson talks about in his book, it is all the more important for our congregations to be so active in loving their communities that at least many of our unchurched neighbors would see it as a great loss if we suddenly closed our doors.
- Part 1: The Missional Landscape
- Part 2: Scripture
- Part 3: The Cross of Christ
- Part 4: Personal Conversion
- Part 5: Active Faith
- Part 6: Christian Perfection
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