It was a very successful event in our common ministry, because we learned that we could communicate with each other… and that our common ministry and common brotherhood as fellow Christians and as fellow clergy was important enough to do the hard work of facing the uncomfortable conversations in order to clear the air… and ensure that misunderstandings didn’t come between us.
I believe we followed Jesus’ teaching that when you have something that bugs you about someone, you go to them personally and confront them, privately, face to face, and “alone” (Matthew 18:15f). If that doesn’t work, then you take someone else with you and so on… always looking for reconciliation in the relationship. Wasn’t it Paul that said that in becoming new creations, the old ways of the world were no longer our ways? As Christians, we’re different people, new creations, and “behold, all things become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even the ways the world goes about dealing with conflict are not our ways.
And in that very next verse, the very next sentence, we are presented with the instruction that since God “has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ…” that He has now “given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Tom Bickerton and Dayton Mix did that kind of individual, private, face-to-face reconciling work… and, I believe, we both walked away feeling like brothers… CHRISTIAN brothers… not the Cain and Abel kind. I felt we were reconciled. That’s what Jesus said we were to be about. That’s what Paul said was to be our ministry.
So I am at a loss why this keeps coming up in other people’s conversations, letters, emails, phone calls, and planning.
Then there were anonymous letters sent trying to prejudice lay people against the bishop. Being clergy, I didn’t get one, but I’m told that I wasn’t named in the letter, but the background of this situation was. What was included were misunderstandings and confusion… some pieces of true information… but because they’re out of context they are not accurate.
And for the record, anonymous letters have NO PLACE in Christianity. In both Scripture and in the history of the church, the ones who were truly led of God to “take a stand” and “defend the faith” always publicly spoke out. They wrote with their names attached… regardless of reprisal… even if it meant burning at the stake, or persecution, or excommunication. Those are the ones we look back to and honor them for ‘defending the faith.’
The times that so-called Christians hid behind the cover of anonymity were times of hiding under bed sheets and white hoods so that they could make a point about what was bothering them and so they created fear, division, and intimidation. Christians aren’t supposed to work like that. We’re supposed to do the hard work of standing up for what you believe and confronting someone who has hurt you in order to seek reconciliation.
Now, as we’re about to leave for our annual conference sessions where we supposedly gather to “discern” what God would have us do as a covenanted people who are all united to do His work together in this area, I received an email that thanked me for some information and the writer included a question:
Although there have been several bishops (and pastors and lay people as well) that I wonder how they ever made it past their own local pastor asking them the “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” and “Do you repent of your sins?” questions when they were first joining the church as lay people, THIS bishop is NOT one of those I wonder about. I believe him to be a good and decent man who loves Jesus as Lord and takes seriously his responsibility to shepherd the church.
Yes, he can be a bit of a politician too… in that he would like to do what he can to have EVERYONE be happy. I guess I don’t see that as horrible… Jesus himself calls us to be peacemakers. Maybe he made a mistake in how he tried to keep the peace. Maybe he would do things differently if he could.
Frankly, I would have made some decisions differently if I had been in his position… But then, in MY OWN LIFE there are MANY decisions I’d make differently if I could. Therefore, I MUST show a leader, even a bishop, that same graciousness that I would want to be treated with… and HAVE been treated with, by the people of God.
What happened to the Christians who pray for and love each other? In fact, wasn’t that the very definition Jesus used as to how you could tell a REAL Christian: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35)?
For that matter, if you believe that there are some in our church that truly are “the enemy,” then why aren’t we praying for them and showing them overwhelming love like Scripture says (Luke 6:27-28)? If we consider someone to be our enemy, Jesus said that we were to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘go the second mile’ and ‘not resist an evil person’ (Matthew 5:38-42).
As for the issues that keep dividing us… war, abortion, sexuality beliefs & practices, particular doctrines, or whatever… I come from a background where we believed that the Bible taught that “whosoever would” could come to Christ and they could come as sinners “just as they are.” Sins and all… They could accept Christ and be a part of the family of God and still screw up occasionally… The question wasn’t ‘Are you without sin yet?’ but rather ‘Do you repent of your sin?’
What makes my sin okay, or perhaps the sin of talebearing or gossip all right, but a bishop misspeaking, or a whole congregation that doesn’t seem to “get it” the way I believe on homosexuality, NOT acceptable?
YES, there are sinners in the church… and IT’S US!!!! We’re them! ALL of us…
I’ve been looking forward to conference for months and months and months. Not so that I can make a political stand or get my way on an issue… but because I’m a follower of Jesus Christ who follows John Wesley’s example of needing to ‘conference’ with my brothers and sisters. And yes, there will be unpleasant conversations at times and things might not always go my way, but if we’re truly Christian, then we’d better be about loving each other… including our bishop and our leaders… loving each other so much so that the people around us who watch us can recognize that we truly do love one another.
Either that or or we ought to quit calling ourselves followers of Christ…