I love lighthouses. There is something fascinating about those tall towers that provide guidance and hope to travelers tossed around on the waves of the sea. Unbeknown to the casual observer, lighthouses do much more than serve as interesting tourist attractions and beacons of light.
Each individual lighthouse can be configured to emit a specific pattern of light that synchronizes it with navigational charts. Without any other instruments, sailors can determine their position simply by observing the light. Each lighthouse is also painted uniquely in case the light is not easily seen or is broken. And in the case of very poor visibility, a unique foghorn signal conveys the same unique information.
As the United Methodist Church (UMC) struggles with its spiritual identity, I can’t help but wonder if they have forgotten that they are called to be a lighthouse. In one of the most famous passages of scriptures, Jesus related the idea of the importance of our uniqueness:
“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:13-16 (NLT)
While there are many who are quick to try to make this scripture about the “good deeds” and say that “love wins”, they would do a great injustice to the passage. Jesus goes on to say,
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! Matthew 5:17-20 (NLT)
In other words the law continues until it is no longer needed. It is no longer needed when people naturally conform to God’s nature without needing a law written on stone tablets. The law will instead be inscribed in our hearts. (Jer 31:33, Rom 2:15, Heb 10:16)
So while I applaud the UMC’s desire for love, unity, mercy, peace and other godly qualities, it is naive to believe that unity apart from a standard is possible. If it were, then the Apostle Paul certainly would have never called for the expulsion of the man sleeping with his stepmother (1 Cor 5).
As is far too often the case in today’s society, a remnant of people have broken the very vows they made to the church, lied about who they were and have violated the standards that they swore to uphold. I am sure that many will take umbrage with this, yet there is no other reasonable explanation. Many of the very people pushing for changes to UMC’s book of discipline have excluded themselves from the covenant agreement by their actions and thus spiritually and legally have no voice in the matter.
Let me illustrate it this way. Imagine a President who took office swearing to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States then not only violated the Constitution, but also began defending and upholding Sharia as the law of the land. Once he/she has broken the oath to the Constitution, logic tells us that he/she no longer has legitimate power to do anything. Therefore he can only succeed if “we the people” don’t stop him/her.
I believe in freedom of religion. Everyone should have the right to believe any way they choose to. Since God gave us free will, it only makes sense that we as humans do not impede that in any way. That does not mean, however, that I should join a Baptist church, agree with their doctrines and then start teaching everyone that Baptism is a thing of the past which should no longer be observed. It would be dishonest, manipulative and devoid of integrity.
If the UMC believes that they have misinterpreted scripture for over 200 years, then that is a discussion they need to have and a determination they need to make. If however they are bending to socio-political pressures for the sake of unity, money, power or influence, then they have certainly lost the heart of their founder John Wesley who stands out as one of the great human lighthouses of history. He looked different, he sounded different and he acted different. Some qualities we should all consider more closely.