Below is an open letter sent by Jonathan E. Brickman — member of New Hope United Methodist Church in Topeka, Kansas, USA — to Good News Magazine, a publication dedicated to "leading United Methodists to a faithful future"; these people have proved that they care much about that which the Lord has said.
Greetings in the Lord, brothers and sisters of Good News Magazine. I have been reading your publications quite avidly, and thought it might be worthwhile to send over a few new thoughts. I shall consider this an open letter, and will be copying it to others as well. I would appreciate it if you would consider publishing this as a letter to the editor.
The topic of "unity" is, understandably, rather dominant in the UMC-wide conversation these days. There seem to be more or less two camps: on the one hand, there is unity as being both defined and destroyed, by church-law and its keeping and lack thereof. On the other hand, there is unity as existing by treatment of truth as irrelevant and/or nonexistent. I will suggest to all, that the Lord makes a third option available in His Scripture.
In general, a single local church-body exists and has strength, according to how much agreement it has within. This is a multi-bladed sword: in any local church-body, because all are not yet flawless, there will be group agreements both true and false, both good and evil, both right and wrong. But if one assails any of these agreements, regardless of how much good or evil the particular agreement has, the body shall suffer weakness, unless the Lord has an immediate gift waiting in the wings to replace. Love, therefore, must be greater than all of the agreements; love must cover minor evils, that the major good of the Lord might live in the church for its strength, and might be vigilant to deny domination to major evils, to clear and present sin. This is right for the local church. But what the Lord has to say to us about the churches at large across the world, is very different, very shocking indeed; and if we try to treat the whole huge UMC in the way we would treat the local church, as is traditional, there will be consequences.
We should focus quite a lot of study and prayer, I will suggest, on what the Lord has said in Holy Scripture, concerning local churches guilty of clear and present sin. If we do, we may be very surprised to see that the Lord does not cut any of them off. Even when He calls out whole churches for grievous and terrible sexual sins, He still speaks of those churches as His. They are still His. There is only one cause He ever gave for His divestiture of churches, which is lukewarmness. I will venture to suggest that historically there may have been approximately as many sexually perverse churches in the UMC, as there have been lukewarm churches in the UMC.
So the question then comes: what kind of unity should we seek, in a large worldwide group of churches? I say that there is only one unity which is good: the unity of simple devotional love of neighbor, brother, and stranger on the road. A person devoted to perversion is indeed a stranger on the road to me; but the Lord has made clear that I am to love such a stranger, in the hope that His Holy Spirit may use my behavior to help take that one from his sin to the Kingdom of God.
There are other objections which are common. One of them is the vows sworn by those in upper echelons. I will suggest that this conflict is one true cause for the Lord's teaching on vows, which teaching I need not repeat in brotherly company such as this. And just like other kinds of sin, the Lord has not yet freed many from this conflict; but no matter if a brother understand the Lord's teaching on vows or not, I can and I shall suggest that it is evil to plead vows as a cause to deny holy love to the stranger on the road. And the same is true of pledges to obedience to anyone who is not God Himself.
If it should occur that we find ourselves commanded to sin, or commanded to encourage sin, certainly we shall defy such commandments, and we shall consider public defiance to be a very good thing. But this does not mean that we must go further. This is because there is no good faith in anything that is not God. There is no more reason to do more than defy, regarding a local church, a multichurch group, a nation of this world, or an institution uniting those nations. In the Name of the Lord at least, we do not ever have to strive with either brothers, or neighbors, or strangers on the road. We merely need defy them. And there is much more joy in such defiance, than any strife could have!
Jonathan E. Brickman
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