29 September 2007

Living the Gospel

As my harvest sermon for tomorrow will make clear, I don't think that 'the Gospel message' is simply about professing Jesus Christ as Lord so that one will go to 'heaven' when one dies.

Non-Methodists may disagree, but it's fundamental to Methodism that 'all can be saved', in other words, that God's offer of salvation extends to every person who has ever lived or who ever will live. The conclusion that I arrive at from 'all can be saved' is that every single person is equally beloved by God and is equally precious and with equal dignity. Furthermore, God's central commandments are to love God and love my neighbour.

I therefore conclude that I too am commanded to treat every person as equally precious and with equal dignity. That means every person is important to God and should be important to me. I confess that I don't always live this out as I should do, but this is what I believe.

I want to stress that I do not in any way deny the importance of Christ's divinity, his atonement or any creedal statements. I'm simply putting emphasis on what some call 'the social gospel' because I think it has been denied for too long.

This might seem obvious to many people, so why am I saying it? Because there has been some suggestion in the British Methodist blogsphere that a minister's time is far too precious to be spent engaging in allegedly 'ineffective' things like conducting weddings for non-church members. Apparently, unless the wedding (or presumably a funeral, a baptism or a visit) results in a conversion and larger numbers of people in church, it's not worth the minister's time.

When I talked about the church's responsibility to the wider community in country villages, this was regarded as 'socialising'. Amazing how the church trying to love its neighbour by caring about them ends up sounding like two corporate fat-cats swigging G&Ts whilst betting on the horses.

I simply don't believe that it's possible to preach the message: 'God loves you, but I won't care about you until you start coming to church.' Any fool can see past this sort of hypocrisy; people are not stupid. How on earth do you preach that all people are of equal worth to God and then act as if an individual is not worth the church's time? How does this fit with 'Let the little children come to me and don't forbid them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these?'

By all means, pray for revivial. But don't expect anything to happen if the church is not prepared to to see non-Christians as people who are worth our time.

Sadly, the church all too often reminds me of Lucy Van Pelt's comment in the old Peanuts cartoons. Lucy says 'I love mankind, it's people I can't stand.'

4 comments:

Methodist Preacher said...

Pam, I am really grateful that you are reading my blog and responding to the points I make.

Anyone who is aware of my work over the last forty years will know that I am absolutely the last person to say that the Church should not be active in the community.

I achieved a measure of success in secular politics, precisely because I did step out of the confines of the Church.

However I don't buy this false seperation between the social and personal gospel - that always, always suits the politcal right and it puts our faith into a cosy little box from which it is unable to challenge the status quo.

I shan't indulge in a "good works competition" but people of all faiths and none have come to me for support and found it, as many of the people in your home town will tell you.

PamBG said...

OK, point-by-point questions here.

Anyone who is aware of my work over the last forty years will know that I am absolutely the last person to say that the Church should not be active in the community.

I'm sure that's true. But I do get the feeling that anything that does not finish in 'tangible results' is - at best - not particularly valuable to you and - at worse - a sign of incompetence? Please correct me if I'm wrong. There doesn't seem to be any sense of sowing seeds for the future?

I achieved a measure of success in secular politics, precisely because I did step out of the confines of the Church.

I don't really understand what that statement means or what it has to do with the conversation.

What never ceases to amaze me is that a person can spend 30 years working in 'the world' and when they become a minister at the age of 50, they suddenly are naive and don't know anything about what 'the real world is like'. That, and we lose all knowledge of sex, so please don't mention the word 'pregnancy' in my presence. ;-)

However I don't buy this false seperation between the social and personal gospel - that always, always suits the politcal right and it puts our faith into a cosy little box from which it is unable to challenge the status quo.

Well, we are in agreement there. I can assure you that a good deal of American evangelicalism and the kind of conservative British Anglicanism I left thinks that 'social gospel' is code for 'Doesn't really believe in God.'

I'm certainly not trying to separate the two things; I'm trying to keep them together.

I shan't indulge in a "good works competition" but people of all faiths and none have come to me for support and found it, as many of the people in your home town will tell you.

It's not my intent to engage in good works competition. I'm simply at a loss as to what your point is or what you want from ministers and from the church. As I'm sure you know - and this isn't even the smallest town around here - people know a person by their works.

Peter Kirk said...

Pam, I don't think anyone was trying to say that taking weddings was a bad thing. But in a situation where there are rather few ministers and they are trying to pack in ridiculously tight schedules, it is surely right for them to look carefully at priorities. And it may well be that they decide that taking weddings for outsiders should not be a high priority, given the large amount of precious time required to do the job effectively and the small benefit to be gained.

It would be great if there were enough ministers around that they could spend time just socialising, or chatting without considering whether this is worthwhile. Sadly, there are not enough ministers. And it is unlikely that there ever will be if we are thinking of paid professionals. So perhaps the job of the paid professionals, as in Ephesians 4:12, should be focused more on mobilising and equipping lay people to do things like this - perhaps even including weddings, or at least the preparation for them so that the minister needs do little but take the service.

PamBG said...

Peter:

Well, I wish that someone would clearly state a model of ministry that they favoured and that such a model could be discussed and 'worked with'.

What I'm protesting against is the idea that there are certain categories of people who are worth a minister's time and certain categories of people who are not.

If you look at Dave's ridiculously tight schedule, much of it is 'soft' in the sense that anyone else could do it. The problem is that ministry isn't always about 'doing'; it's also about 'being'. The people want The Minister at the harvest supper. Sure someone else could 'do' whatever he did, but do you really think 'Sorry, I've worked 64 hours this week and I really need some time alone with my wife so I'm going to skip Harvest Supper' would fly?

Especially with people who complain about ministers being lazy and incompetent? I was tempted to facetiously write: 'Bread and butter, socialising, personal, socialising, socialising, bread and butter' against all Dave's items.

It's amazing that someone can cogently and accurately state that it's a real problem not being able to separate one's private life from one's work but still see ministers as a law unto themselves.