Disemboweling the #UMC

Edo period print of a Samurai about to commit seppuku, courtesy Wikipedia.
Edo period print of a Samurai about to commit seppuku, courtesy Wikipedia.

It occurred to me recently that Jesus has little to do with our current denominational crises (sexuality, authority, polity, theology, etc.).  We argue about all of these and more, of course.  But Jesus is rarely invoked.  Whether this is because Jesus is not particularly relevant to our debates (which I don’t believe is true), or because his life, his Spirit, and his witness are secondary to our ego-driven conniving, it is hard to say.  But make no mistake, Jesus is conspicuously absent from our day-to-day conversation in the UMC.  If invoked at all, it is either Jesus the one-dimensional revolutionary, or the (equally monochromatic) Jesus the holy celibate, who existed above all temptations.  We too quickly trade the Second Person of the Trinity for a usable Christ constructed in our own image(s), and then peddle fool’s gold as if it is precious.

Of course, the problem with this is that without Jesus, the Christian faith – and the church who bears that story – is bankrupt.  As John Stott wrote so viscerally,

“The person and work of Christ are the rock upon which the Christian religion is built. If he is not who he said he was, and if he did not do what he said he had come to do, the foundation is undermined and the whole superstructure will collapse. Take Christ from Christianity, and you disembowel it; there is practically nothing left.  Christ is the centre of Christianity; all else is circumference.” (Basic Christianity, 21)

In contemporary United Methodism, we spend most of our time playing around in the circumference, and little time sitting at the feet of Christ.

No doubt, many will say this is all an obvious and overly pious dodge – so simplistic it is almost foolhardy. But absent a refocusing on the One who truly matters, the circumference will continue to dominate our energy, attention, and resources.  Such a church will be many things – many of them good, beautiful, and just – but it will not be a church of the living Christ.  It will be a husk, a shadow, a corpse of a thing incapable of being neither salt nor light.  I pray this is not our future; but many of the loudest voices in our church seem satisfied with nothing less, either in the name of ‘scriptural’ fidelity or ‘biblical’ obedience.

Like the Greeks who approached Philip wanting only one thing, I believe the UMC has only one real need, despite our sea of petitions, conversations, and threats: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” (John 12:21b)

Will we recover “the one thing needful?” Only time will tell.


  1. Tex Sample comes from my parents’ generation (born 1935). This is one of his “Liberal Seminary professors talk to their conservative parents” stories. A friend of his was at his father’s house in Alabama when Jesse Jackson, Sr. came on the television. (Before Barack Obama, Jackson was the focus of White Southern rage). The father began cursing at Jackson through the TV. The highly educated son said “Daddy, why don’t you just PRAY that God will strike Jesse Jackson dead?” The father snorted “Son, you know Jesus won’t put up with that sh**.”

  2. I think your comments are evident in worship when we give that small amount of time to honor ourselves for all our accomplishments, veterans, public servants, teachers, parents. While I see them all as important I don’t feel they should take time from worship of God.

  3. I think it was John Piper who said that every sermon should start with scripture, be put in its context, and run with it to the cross. People are spiritually perishing, but rarely in a UM church do I hear, even indirectly, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:16.

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