In The Message paraphrase, Proverbs 24 has this little gem:
"It takes wisdom to build a house, and understanding to set it on a firm foundation..."My dad was a carpenter. I'm no expert but I absorbed enough wisdom from him over the years to understand some things about buildings. First, the foundation has to be solid. It can't wiggle or wobble, it needs to be firm. Second, the frame needs to be solidly connected to the foundation-the building needs to be unified. There is a right way to build and there is a wrong way to build. Some flaws are cosmetic and just need to be covered. Other flaws though, negatively impact the integrity of the structure and you have to tear them out and fix the problem. Build correctly and your building will stand firm. Build it wrong and your building can (and at some point will) collapse.
Here's my point. We have an amazing foundation thanks to John Wesley and the early founders of United Methodism. In my opinion, hands down, bar none, we have something worth sharing! But as a denomination today, we are all over the place in what we teach and how we teach it! We have lost the unity of the message and our messages are no longer connected to the foundation! Not only is the average member puzzled by what we believe, it seems some of our ministers have the same problem! (Yup, here I go stepping on toes again). Some call this an "identity crisis". I think it goes deeper than that, we have a unity crisis. When you stray from your roots or your foundation, then you are no longer connected, and that, my darling friends, is a problem!
Jeremy has pointed to something very specific-we are allowing Bible Studies to be taught in our churches that do not line up with core Methodist beliefs. I think the problem is even bigger-we do not teach core Methodist beliefs in the first place. What makes us distinctly Methodist? What do we believe? Why do we believe this? Why do we do things one way instead of another way? Seriously, why are we not preaching this from the pulpit or teaching it in Sunday School class? Because we are no longer anchored to the spiritual foundation that is the UMC. Because our leaders do not feel a necessity to be anchored to our distinctly Methodist foundation. We have preached "anything goes" for so long that we have become a detriment to our own denomination. And as members, we stood by and didn't say a word! Gee, I couldn't possibly imagine why we have a problem!
Not that this is new. Even Wesley preached on this topic! Go read sermon 61 They Mystery of Iniquity and you'll see what I mean. That's why teaching (and preaching) the core beliefs is critical to regaining our unity and connection with our foundation. That is why the early societies were so "methodical". They understood how easy it is to get distracted and off course. It's human nature to follow the shiny bobble! It's hip, it's cool, it's popular, yeah let's go with the flow! Going with the flow has never been a "mark" of Methodism. Methodists are expected to hold to a higher standard.
The solution to this is not an easy fix. We, as members, can demand a higher standard, but then we become the "problem child" churches in the Methodist hierarchy. Or, as an individual, you can do what I've done, which is read and study my bible, read and study Wesley's sermons and notes, and read and study about the history of the United Methodist church. Educate yourself and then share what you have learned with others. It's an eye opener! But I can tell you from personal experience, it's well worth the effort! And pray. Pray, pray, pray because we have so much to offer, if we would just go back to our solid foundation! I have faith that we can and will reclaim our heritage, but I understand that I may have to wait...