What does a Methodist Christian do to find his way out of the horrendous dilemma in which United Methodism finds itself? The dilemma is easy enough to define. It is the "anything goes" or "inclusiveness" attitude along with its mystical Christian lyrics and expressions of love. Just recently Good News magazine published two articles that seemed to totally contradict each other, "Forgetting Where We Came From" by James V. Heidinger and "Finding Soul In The Groove" by Steve Beard. They did have one thing in common; they both ended up with no real solution to the problems within the Church. The real questions for both writers are these: Just what is a Christian anyway? What actions, if any, are Christians to show to mark a difference between them and the world beyond verbalization? In theological terms, can a Christian still be a Christian and follow a humanistic or Calvinistic antinomian creed?
Of the two writers, Heidinger shows great skill and adeptness in expressing himself. As usual, it is always a pleasure to read his articles whether you agree with him or not. His overall point in "Forgetting Where We Came From" is that the Constitution does not promote separation of Church and State as the liberals would have us think. He calls us back to the tried and true values of our founding fathers as he points out how Thomas Jefferson meant that doctrine. But because his opening statements were so striking the reader would have to give pause and read the article.
Heidinger quotes Carl Sandburg, "When a society or a civilization perishes, one condition can always be found. They forgot where they came from." No one here at IMARC would seriously differ with that. After all, one of the objectives of IMARC is to call Methodists back to their Biblical legacy in both theology and practice of the holy Christian faith. Heidinger continues by saying what most readers of the Good News Magazine know all too well, "United Methodism has almost forgotten where it came from." "Almost"? After reading about the homosexual problem and others, I wonder if they really care at all about their Christian heritage as exemplified by their founder, the Rev. John Wesley, much less the Lord Himself. Even those who are finally realizing the problems would much rather talk history then to live and believe real Methodist Arminian doctrine. They love to talk spiritual renewal but deny Methodist theology, and would follow all other faiths. If they do talk Arminian doctrine, they try to twist it into some sort of human will or praise of man. Neither Arminius or Wesley used their theological position to promote the kind of secular humanism that we see today. Calvinists, however, use this idea of Arminian humanism to twist Methodist people who are truly concerned for their souls and seeking truth away from Methodism.
Heidinger writes about the skilled editorialist Thomas Sowell, one of his favorites, and mine too. Sowell pointed out that people can graduate from Harvard without taking "a single course in history." Heidinger agrees and called it what it is, a "dumbing down" of America. He goes on to apply this concept to the lack of understanding of the Constitution. He makes his point well. However, this criticism of "dumbing down" can be applied to Methodist writers and pastors too. We have been "dumbing down" our young men who enter the pastorate, and the layman who serve on local church boards. MostMethodist pastors still recognize who Wesley and Asbury are, and maybe a few lines written by each. Unfortunately, most laymen seem not to care anymore about their roots. All talk about vital Christian faith, but they never look to the past in Methodist theology. They avoid it like a plague. A good example is the Good News magazine itself. When was the last time they defended historic Methodist doctrine beyond holiness? We will find even less insight to this problem in the second article by Mr. Steve Beard.
Beard, in "Finding Soul In The Groove," contemplates the "Christian rock 'n' roll" culture within the Church. He speaks of such groups as U2, P.O.D., and MxPx and how they use "unabashedly Christian members and lyrics" on their tours. He quotes C.T. Studd, "Some wish to live within the sound of church and chapel bell. I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell." Beard uses this quote to attempt to prove that what these groups are doing is what is needed. Accordingly, they are standing at the gates of hell itself where other "Christians" would not dare to tread. After all, he reasons, they really are reaching those who need it most Yet there is reason enough not to stand too close to the gates of hell. Real Christians don't want to be burned up like the soldiers who tended the fiery furnace. Beard also used the example of William Booth and said that P.O.D. "is best seen as a rock "n" roll version of the Salvation Army's gutsy and misunderstood founder." Booth's clean cut uniforms are a far cry from the garments of P.O.D. and his paradigm of holy living is evidentially beyond Mr. Bread's understanding. To be sure, if pressed, he would say that Charles Wesley used the music of his time to reach the people. Therefore, there is no difference between the two. But would Wesley, Booth or Studd approve of their kind of holy living? Did Jesus really have to look like, act like, and sound like sinners to win them, and gain their trust? I don't think so.
He says of one rock artist, "It seems that Stapp is not only haunted by his relationship with God, but also by some nightmarish memories of legalism. Rock historians will testify to this being a common experience for many of rock's legends." What does he mean by "nightmarish memories of legalism"? Is he saying that the Ten Commandments are bad and do harm? Paul says that the Law was a school master to bring them to God. The do's and don't's are put there to help us, not hurt us. Biblically speaking, they help us realize that we cannot save ourselves, and they are general guidelines that God has laid down for all men to obey. Perhaps what should be said is that the boundaries cause these people to rebel. Now that is a thought! They too can turn to Jesus for relief, but they are too busy doing their own thing and making big money at the same time. So to appease their troubled consciences they sing about God to the devil's music.
Finally, Beard closes his article by telling of his experience at a recent U2 concert. He says, "Nevertheless, God used the opportunity to speak to me throughout the night. Not being a well-attuned mystic, I was rather surprised. The culmination of the evening was the final encore. Bono began singing the word hallelujah over and over and over again." Because of this, most of those in attendance joined in and Beard just stopped short of calling it a revival. He concluded with this quote by Bono: "I hope our lives will be a testament to the people who follow us, and to the music business where never before have so many lost and sorrowful people gathered in one place pretending they're having a good time. It is our ambition to make more then good music." Implied here is the idea that they, I guess, are to become Christian. I am not sure.
One writer clearly says that we should look to our "roots," while the other seems to have no idea what our roots are as Methodist Christians, much less vital Christian faith. At the beginning of this article I asked: Just what is a Christian anyway? What actions, if any, are Christians to show to mark a difference between them and the world beyond the verbalization of what we believe? In theological terms, can a Christian still be a Christian and follow a humanistic or Calvinistic antinomian creed? According to Beard, U2 and others are fine examples of Christian faith. After all, they dare like C.T. Studd to stand at the gates of hell itself to save souls. Have we finally reduced Christianity to mere verbalization in all forms and few, if any, actions of holy living in any form? We Methodists have more then just a struggle to free ourselves from the homosexual problem. We must free ourselves from the wrong concepts of vital Christian faith. Calvinism here can not redeem us. I for one, after reading about our founder John Wesley and his deep devotion to Christ our Lord, think that he would not tolerate what is passed as Christianity today.