One Church Model as Yeast

The Nicene and Apostle's creed both have a line that affirms belief in the holy catholic church and if we read it too quickly then we overlook the mystery of that phrase. 

I was reminded not long ago in a meeting with church leaders the meanings of these words. 

  • holy - set apart 
  • catholic - throughout the whole
  • church - the body that comes together in order to be sent out

If the point of the church is to be sent out, then why would it come together to begin with? Some might even call this a paradox others might see this is really inefficient. If the point is to be sent out, then are we not going against the point when we come together? Many of us see the benefits of coming together in order to be sent out and are not hung up by this paradox. However, fewer of us are able to reconcile the paradox of something that is both set apart and throughout the whole. 

We like to think that we are able to hold two ideas in our heads at the same time and give them equal weight. We like to think that we do not privilege one side over the other. We like to think that we are able to hold the paradox, but more often than not we will place one position over the other. Despite our inability to hold paradoxes, we continue to try because we know that life is never one or the other, but full of contradictions and paradoxes. 

For instance, are you a parent or a child? What color is the dress? What do you hear? Maybe the most basic paradox - "this sentence is false."

The divisions in the church these days might be understood as our unwillingness to attempt to hold these tensions together. Some elevate the role of the church as holy (set apart and different) while others elevate the role of the church as catholic (though out the whole or sometimes understood as universal).

Photo by  Drew Coffman  on  Unsplash

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

You may recall that Jesus attempted to address this paradox of being set apart and through out the whole by speaking of yeast. Yeast is different form the whole and yet in order for yeast to function it has to be through out the whole batch. 

The UMC faces a number of decisions in February 2019 around how to include LGBTQIA+ people in the church. It seems to me that the option that is most like the church as yeast is what is called the "One Church Model." This model gives the decision about ordination and marriage to the most local body able to make the decision. Conferences decide who they are going to ordain as it is now, pastors decide who they are going to marry as it is now, and churches decide what types of ceremonies are allowed on church property now.

If we allow the the decision of how to include LGBTQIA+ persons to be spread through out the whole of the church then, paradoxically and mysteriously, the yeast retains its holiness. It seems clear to me that if the status quo remains or if there is a dramatic change in the current stance, then we move closer to being holy OR catholic. 

This is one more reason why I believe the "One Church model" not only is in line with the creeds, but is in line with our historical and Wesleyan tradition of affirming the holy, catholic church.

Shifting the Marginalized

Recently I was in a conversation with a church member who shared their concern about shifting who we marginalize. This member said that they have been marginalized in their life and it was a terrible place to be. This member said that they have a concern that the conversations in the UMC around LGBTQI+ inclusion has been dominated by voices that are willing to shift who we marginalize rather than attempting to eradicate the very idea of having marginalized groups! 

Photo by  Ryan Searle  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ryan Searle on Unsplash

I heard this member express concerns that it will be the traditionalists who will be marginalized in the conversation. This was unsettling to this member even as they disagree with the traditionalist position. They could not imagine being a part of a church that would be willing to shift who we marginalize.

It is conversations like this that I have time and time again with members of the local church I am a part of that I offer as evidence to why I support the efforts of the Uniting Methodists. 

If we believe that the faithful way to eradicate angry racism toward people of color is to fight with angry racism toward whites then we truly are lost. Replacing one evil/Sin with the very same evil/Sin with different pronouns then the cycle of violence and scapegoating is alive and well. It is this cycle that Rene Girard identifies at Satan.

Satan, like Christ, is a title not a proper name. While Christ means "Anointed", Satan mean "Accuser." The more we accuse, blame, marginalize and scapegoat others the tighter grip the Satan has on us all. And so you may begin to see that to use tactics that divide people is the very first step to acting as the Satan (Accuser). 

If it is true that you just cannot abide with a community that you believe is doing things that are outside the Grace of God, then perhaps the most faithful response is to move closer to them rather than divide. For division is the second act of the Satan. The final act of the Satan is to move toward eradication of another. And when the other is eradicated, guess what, the Satan will desire another victim. 

Shifting who we marginalize is not the work of the Anointed. It is the work of the Satan. May we not shift the marginalized but rather remove the act of marginalizing. 

Truth as Unity

Recently Rev. Tom Lambrecht wrote a wonderful article laying out as he sees the larger conversation in the UMC and LGBTQ inclusion. His thesis is that one side places Unity over Truth (the progressive position) while the other side places Truth over Unity (the conservative position). This is a wonderful article because it highlights the very false choice that is often presented to our denomination. While he is writing from a conservative side, the same false choice is presented from the progressive side. It looks different but it sounds the same - we either have Unity or Truth (in the progressive position Truth permits full LGBTQ inclusion). 

I submit this is a false choice. The reality is in the story of Jesus: it is not Unity or Truth, but Truth as Unity. Just as the Truth of Jesus is both human and divine or just as the Good News is both for Jew and Gentile - Truth is whole and unified. It endures. Unity has always been at the very foundation of Truth and to split it is to follow the adulterous woman (Proverbs 7) rather than woman wisdom (Proverbs 8).

Truth has a way of incorporating seemingly paradoxical positions all the time. Look to the natural sciences, a tree can be dying and putting on new life at the same time or that a platypus is a mammal but lays eggs. Consider the mystifying paradoxes in physics. Look to the teachings of Jesus (first will be last, last will be first; loose your life to gain it; etc.) And who can overlook the fact that human beings are walking talking paradoxes (Christianity says humans are both sinner and saint to speak of the paradox of human beings). 

The more we put out the false ideas that the denomination upholds either Unity or Truth the more we entrench ourselves in our own egos and messiah complexes. The more we think that our side has Truth or values it more than the other side the farther away we push the very Truth we claim to have command of.


Behind all the rhetoric of our denominational leaders and thinkers about the nature of our situation is a genuine lack of love. That is it. We just do not love one another. Since we do not love one another we do not trust one another. Since we do not trust one another we impose our own sense of justice to a situation that barely (at best) connects to us. We just cannot stand the idea that there is someone who bears the same name I bear (United Methodist) and is doing something that I cannot abide with. So even if we are miles away from the matter and it has nothing to do with us at all, we impose our opinion. We use all sorts of justifications to merit our opinion, but the reality is it is all a mask. We use our language to mask the fact that we have frail egos and we cannot imagine being associated with "those people". (See liberals who oppose Trump or conservatives who oppose Obama at every mention of their name as an example of two groups of people who cannot stand being associated with one who bears the same name: American.)

I am embarrassed by many in my own denomination. I am embarrassed in my own actions. But just as I cannot split myself from myself, so too the Truth cannot be split into neat little categories. Truth as Unity is the way Truth has always been. But, hey if we want to divide up Truth so we can each feel better about our own little kingdoms, egos and pride then we will never make a single Disciple of Jesus Christ - only disciples of our own selves. 

Methodists not "Positionists"

The other day I was in conversation with a member of the church I serve and he told me of a book that he was taught and memorized much of when he was younger, The Westminster Shorter Catechism. He went on to tell me that the first question and answer in this book is:

  • Q. What is the chief end of man?
  • A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
   Photo by  NeONBRAND  on  Unsplash


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

This was the foundation of his early Christian experience. It was also clear in our conversation that he is in a phase of this formation where he is deconstructing his faith and has more questions than ever before. This is a natural process for so many but the Church has not been very helpful at guiding pilgrims through the deconstruction (death) of their former understanding of faith in order to help usher reconstruction (resurrection). I tried my best to listen to him because he embodies the type of Christian that I desire to be - curious, open and humbling seeking. 

After learning about what he was taught was the chief end of man was, it dawned on me that perhaps this is a point of difference in the UMC that I have experienced. That is to say, the United Methodist tradition that I have experienced is one that is concerned less about the "ends" than it is concerned about the "means."

The UMC says that the sacraments of communion are "means of Grace." The UMC has three rules - 1) do no harm, 2) do good and 3) attend to the ordinances of God. That last rule is about upholding the practices that draw us closer to the Spirit of God such as worship, prayer, fasting, study, silence, etc. These three rules all point to a process, a means a way of living. These are not rules to think about but rules do live. These are not so much of positions as they are postures that give flexibility to the Christian to discern how to live these rules out. So within the Church we have conversations about what "doing good" looks like or take actions to repent in the ways we have done harm. Methodists were made fun of in the early days because of their insistence on the "methods" of practicing Christianity. The Methodists were not made fun of because of their positions but because they emphasized the methods/means/practice. 

There are some within our denomination that demand we all pick predetermined sides to the hot issues of the time. It is seen as "unfaithful" or "not a winning strategy" to be a voice that calls for incremental change. The Biblically informed Methodism that has shaped me is one that emphasizes the process (method) over the position. 

The way we are having conversation these days - blaming others, scapegoating victims, dismissing arguments, creating straw-men and false equivalences, not repenting of our own hypocrisy, etc. - is less Methodist and more reflective of the newest denomination I call Positionists.