26 December 2007

Methodism: Dissing is Futile, Vision is Everything

I've been an amateur practitioner of Ignatian Spirituality since my undergraduate years at a Jesuit University in the 1970s. I don't claim to be an expert, by any means, although I've made some study of Ignatian Spirituality for my own devotional purposes.

The thing that I really like about Ignatian spirituality is that it actually provides fairly simple, common-sense guidelines for spiritual discernment. How do I find God in ordinary situations? How do I know that it's God talking and not The Enemy?

The principle is simple although the practice of the principle most certainly is not. Using Protestant Evangelical language: a committed, saved Christian who is genuinely trying to seek the will of God will find energy and motivation when he seeks to do the will of God. The Enemy will not normally tempt a committed Christian by trying to get him to perform blatently sinful acts. The Enemy will tempt a committed Christian by presenting him with apparently 'Godly' options. Jesus' temptation in the desert fits this model well.

One way that I suspect that The Methodist Church in Great Britian may be falling into the temptation of The Enemy (define her / him as you will; I believe) is our constant talking ourselves down. As an organisation, we have very effectively communicated the message to both our members and to the general public that we are dying, that we are useless, that we are ineffective and that we have nothing to offer. In other words, we have been very, very, VERY effective in 'dissing' ourselves. Everyone is now 'on message' with this, including the secular media.

I believe, in fact, that Methodism has a great deal to offer the world. By history and tradition our rendition of the Gospel is a very powerful 'vision statement': The Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that is: 1) now and 2) not yet. 1) A 'now' kingdom that we are called to work for in our discipleship in this life; 2) A future, eschatological, 'supernaturally'-initiated Kingdom that will come when God decides and by his mighty hand mediated by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is a vision that I can get excited about; I don't understand why we are not holding this vision before the Church at every opportunity.

The human mind does not work well in negatives. We will not inspire anyone - members or others - by constantly talking ourselves down. If we keep saying that we are useless, then this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy just like the little boy whose parents tell him he will never amount to anything. Hold before the Methodist people an image of a dying, gospel-less denomination and we will become that dead thing.

I genuinely believe that by and large Methodists and Methodism know what the Gospel is. My challenge to us is to hold this vision of the The Kingdom of God constantly before each other and before ourselves. Whenever we are tempted to say 'We are useless because our numbers are declining', I hope we can hold Christ and the vision of the Gospel before each other to encourage one another. I hope we can stop repeating our narratives of discouragement.

This is not a call to complacency. It is, in fact, a call to action and a call to stop using our energy to discourage ourselves and one another but rather to encourage each other and to work for the Kingdom. Who knows what God's purposes are? This may be a time when we are being called to patience and perserverence so that God may do things we cannot even imagine in the future.

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