I’ve been reflecting a lot recently about what it means to be united. This reflection has largely revolved around helping my leadership team rejoice in their common purpose, to lead the church in “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” In pondering unity, I ran across these paragraphs from the 1900 edition of The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Interestingly, they’re also in the 1904 Doctrines and Discipline. I wonder why they were adopted and how long they stayed in as the official teaching of the Church. I think they’re worthwhile words not only for my leadership team, but perhaps for all of The United Methodist Church. So I share them here. I wonder how my leadership team, and all the leaders (lay and clergy) of the Church, might be a more effective witness to the love of God found in Jesus Christ, if we heeded these words.
The Necessity of Union among Ourselves
Let us be deeply sensible (from what we have known) of the evil of a division in principle, spirit, or practice, and the dreadful consequences to ourselves and others. If we are united, what can stand before us? If we divide, we shall destroy ourselves, the work of God, and the souls of our people.
In order to a closer union with each other. 1. Let us be deeply convinced of the absolute necessity of it. 2. Pray earnestly for, and speak freely to, each other. 3. When we meet, let us never part without prayer. 4. Take great care not to despise each other’s gifts. 5. Never speak lightly of each other. 6. Let us defend each other’s character in everything so far as is consistent with truth. 7. Labor in honor each to prefer the other before himself. We recommend a serious perusal of The Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions.
Paragraphs 127-128, The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1900), emphasis added.
As serious changes are discussed at all levels of the Church, may we not forget the necessity of union among ourselves. And, perhaps, just maybe, the most egregious chargeable offense in The United Methodist Church isn’t “coming out,” but forsaking unity.
It is my prayer that the Church–local and global–might learn to hold fast to the truth of the gospel and be able to let everything else go for the sake of making more disciples of Jesus Christ and transforming the world. Unity will be found not in trumpeting our opinions. Rather, it will come through a radical recommitment to making disciples for the transformation of the world. When we’re united in this common purpose, I truly believe we will “evangelize the continent and spread scriptural holiness over these lands” (from the “Episcopal Address,” Doctrines and Discipline: 1900) for “we believe that God’s design in raising up the Methodist…Church” was for this very purpose (Ibid).