While cleaning the garage recently I had my playlist of oldie favorites going in the background. One song, overflowing with hope for the future of humanity, caught my attention and triggered some memories.

And it also brought to mind the current conflict, acrimony, and division within the United Methodist Church.

The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In Medley by The Fifth Dimension.

If you are of a certain age, you know the words already.

This chart-topping medley, a Grammy Award Winner for Record of the Year in 1969, began as a couple of song fragments from the rock musical Hair. Those fragments, in different keys and tempos, were shaped under the creative ear of veteran producer and engineer Bones Howe into what some believed to be the anthem of a generation. The current Age of Pisces was about to give way to the Age of Aquarius – a time of light, love, and inclusive humanity! Bring it on!!

When would this global love and harmony break out?

The exact circumstances for the change are “When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars.” This change was presumed to occur sometime at the end of the 20th century (I consulted an unimpeachable source on this question of timing: Wikipedia)

C’mon now, I want you to sing along with The Fifth Dimension!

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius, Aquarius, Aquarius
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius, Aquarius

Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in

Oh, let it shine, c’mon
Now everybody just sing along
Let the sun shine in
Open up your heart and let it shine on in

Back in the day, I was at a live concert of The Fifth Dimension (October 19, 1969, Auditorium Theatre in Chicago). The place was packed. They ended the show with Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine in. We were all on our feet, bell-bottoms, tie-dye tops, beads, and long hair, singing along with the Fifth Dimension. You’d think the Age of Aquarius was going to descend on all of us right then and there.
But it didn’t.

Now well into the 21st Century, we are continuing to grapple with evil, injustice, oppression, and sin. Apparently that song was, well, just a song. Astrologer Neil Spencer denounced the lyrics as “astrological gibberish”, noting that Jupiter forms an astrological aspect with Mars several times a year and the moon is in the 7th House for two hours every day. The big deal about the Age of Aquarius wasn’t a big deal after all.

So much for aspirational gibberish that doesn’t change much of anything, except, I imagine, the financial fortunes of The Fifth Dimension.

Which is what, I think, reminded me of some of the aspirational language of United Methodist centrists urging people to #StayUMC. Please note that I am not opposed to people remaining in the UMC. But the contention of influential centrists that nothing is changing or will change in the UMC except these few minor matters related to sexuality, marriage, gender, and clergy qualification is either purposeful misinformation or simply wishful thinking. The centrists contend that traditionalist Methodists who consider leaving the denomination are straining at a gnat. The changes in our sexual understanding and ethics for the continuing United Methodist Church, they assure us, are not really a big deal. Beyond this little carve out about LGBTQIA+ concerns, the centrists claim to be as committed to classical Christian doctrine as the traditionalists.

All of which is, in my opinion, another example of aspirational gibberish.

A recent article by Cabe Matthews in the online magazine Firebrand focuses on the claims of centrists, particularly well-known UMC pastor and author Adam Hamilton, that centrists are solidly orthodox on doctrine, but flexible and inclusive on sexual ethics.

The entire article is well worth the short read required to take it all in, but I’ve included here an excerpt related particularly to what the church might do when cultural trends collide with Christian doctrine.

“Of course the headline issue is that of human sexuality: should the church maintain the classical understanding of Christianity (and before it, its Judaic mother) on same-gender sexual relationships, or is this traditional view now properly understood as retrograde, oppressive, and offensive?

“… [M]any traditionalists insist that matters of human sexuality are not their primary concern. Instead, they often suggest that orthodox Christian doctrine is what is at stake. The post-separation UMC, some claim, will not only be progressive in its sexual ethic, it will quickly abandon classical Christian teachings like the virgin birth, the atoning death of Christ, the Trinity, or the bodily resurrection of Christ. To illustrate this prediction, a parade of anecdotes is trotted out: United Methodist bishops, seminary presidents and professors, boards of ordained ministry, and pastors are quoted as saying some rather shocking things, denying if not outright decrying these doctrines and more.

“On the other side there are a number of self-identified centrist pastors and leaders who advocate staying in The United Methodist Church and claim to be entirely orthodox. These women and men are skeptical of the danger of progressive theology, arguing that the post-separation UMC will not change one iota on its official doctrine. While many of them personally hope to be fully inclusive in their own churches and pastoral practices (and they all promote a big-tent, agree-to-disagree approach to human sexuality), otherwise they claim to be orthodox in their doctrine all the way down the line. And they claim to represent the mainstream of The United Methodist Church.

“(Adam) Hamilton insists that the traditional Christian understanding of same-sex intimacy will be seen as increasingly bigoted in contemporary Western culture. A more sexually open-minded church will appeal more to non-religious and nominally religious people in cultures like ours.

“This approach avoids the question of what is true in the name of what is pragmatic, but let’s set that aside. The immediate question that emerges is similar to what we already said with regard to Scripture: Where do we draw the line? Our culture has strong views on questions of sexual identity. If we must change to reach this culture, what might be next? The doctrine of the Trinity is confusing, and the arithmetic just doesn’t add up. Why not remove that stumbling block, too? How about Jesus’ bloody death on the cross for our sins? Or what about the virgin birth or the hypostatic union? If we are editing doctrinal commitments for the sake of attracting our neighbors to Christ, it seems once again entirely arbitrary to think that this kind of move is permissible in the case of human sexuality and nowhere else. Once again we are opening up the floodgates to all manner of innovations of the classical teachings of the church.

“In addition, there is a powerful confound to this pragmatic argument: early Christianity. The Christian church’s first three centuries saw incredible growth. People flooded into the churches at an exponential rate. But the churches they flooded into were profoundly different from the surrounding culture, including on matters of sexual ethics. The Roman world in late antiquity was probably not quite as sex-obsessed as our culture, but in many communities, it was at least as sexually libertine. If early Christians could evangelize a whole empire with a very different ethic, why can’t we?”

For the entire article, go to The Center Cannot Hold by Cabe Matthews

Beyond the concerns raised by Cabe Matthews, we should also point out those denominations that have abandoned traditional Christian understandings to become a more sexually open-minded church have not by any measure been flooded with “non-religious and nominally religious people in a culture like ours.” Those denominations have continued to decline in numbers, vitality, and influence.

These are not minor matters.

The aspirational desire for overcoming evil, injustice, and oppression, and for love, peace, and community are God-given. But God’s transformational initiative to bring the New Heaven and New Earth are not a matter of Grammy-award winning songs or even the centrist trimming of classical Christian doctrine.

The future is in the hands of Jesus Christ, the One and Only:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

Revelation 21:1-7

The gospel of Jesus Christ does not conform; the gospel transforms – individuals, communities, and cultures. Praise the Lord!

(By the way, if, after this wandering around in theology, the song is still stuck in our head click here: Age of Aquarius Let the Sunshine In by the Fifth Dimension )



Interim President
Wesleyan Covenant Association
1 Corinthians 15:58

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