This is what the Lord says:

“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.

But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’
(Jeremiah 6:16 NLT)

These are serious times with serious choices. The most recent average of national polls about the current direction of the United States indicates that 20.4% of us believe the country is on the right track and 72.6% of us believe the country is on the wrong track. Which means there are 7% of us who are “undecided.”

I don’t know what the polling would indicate if we asked United Methodists the right track/wrong track question about our denomination. We would predictably find strong convictions on both sides.

In the middle, I suspect, however, is a segment of United Methodists, probably much larger than 7%, who are uncertain about the way forward for themselves and their local church in the current denominational unraveling. Many of us may be accustomed to “wait and see what happens”. But the clock is ticking. Current provisions for disaffiliation expire in December 2023. That is when the window closes. It is a time for choosing, not drifting.

So which road will it be for you and your local church? Will you, as the Scripture entreats us, choose the “old, godly way, and walk in it”? Or will we take a pass? “No, that’s not the road we want!”

That may be the most serious choice we make in these serious times.

You might think most of the conflict behind the slow-motion schism of the United Methodist Church is confined to concerns about sexuality, gender identity, marriage, and ordination qualifications. Without doubt, those are serious concerns. As with so many other pressing matters, however, those concerns are actually secondary. The primary question is simple and profound: will you choose the “old, godly way, and walk in it” or not?

As much as we might prefer the proverbial Methodist muddling in the middle of the road, the Bible confronts us with a number of these either/or choices. The Bible goes eyeball-to-eyeball with us about our fundamental allegiances, devotions, worship, and desires.

Some Scriptures come to mind. They rinse the blinkers from our eyes and help us see the choice before us and our local church more clearly:

“You must not have any other god but me.” (Exodus 20:3 NLT)

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“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14,15 NLT)

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“The time promised by God has come at last!”, (Jesus) announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15)

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“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2 NLT)

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“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.

“But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.”
(2 Timothy 4:3-5 NLT)

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“Look, I (Lord Jesus) stand at the door an knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20 NLT)

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Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor identifies two very different ways of thinking about our lives and the world in which we live. One view, called the mimetic view, regards the world as having a given order and a given meaning and thus sees human beings as required to discover that meaning and conform themselves to it. The other perspective, called poiesis, by way of contrast, sees the world as so much raw material out of which meaning and purpose can be created by the individual.

My abbreviated summary would be that one way is to align myself with God’s revelation of what is real, true, beautiful, just, and worthy. The other is that I determine myself what is real, true, beautiful, just, and worthy. There can be some significant overlap here, but the foundational difference is whether God is the author and judge of the world, including me, or whether I am the author and judge of the world, including whatever god I might imagine or invent.

So, which will it be for you? For your local church?

Is the God of the Bible angry, sexist, violent, narrow-minded, and bigoted?

Must the Christian faith be deconstructed because it is actually a patriarchal social paradigm used by the powerful, wealthy, and elite to suppress, exclude, and marginalize others? Or is the “faith once delivered to the saints” and handed along to us a precious gift and promise?

Should we substitute Hippocrates (“First of all, do no harm”) for Jesus or shall we confess, along with the Apostle Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69).

Is the church one among many voluntary associations that give time, money, and advocacy to any number of social causes and political agendas or is it uniquely created and called by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit for the specific purpose of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ — his life, his teaching, his death for our sins according to the Scriptures, his burial, his being raised from the dead, and his coming return to judge the living and the dead?

By the way, if either you or the church of which you are part seems a bit foggy on the purpose of the church, the next time you worship at a UM church take a look in the front section of the hymnal, Baptismal Covenant III, page 45, where you will find this bracing statement of mission:

“The Church is of God, and will be preserved to the end of time, for the conduct of worship and the due administration of God’s word and Sacraments, the maintenance of Christian fellowship and discipline, the edification of believers, and the conversion of the world. All, of every age and station, stand in need of the means of grace which it alone supplies.”

Baptismal Covenant III, page 45

You may be aware of the waves of congregations in many parts of the US that are disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church. For some it is an amicable departure, others are being required by their Annual Conference to pay hefty “exit fees”, and in a growing number of places local churches are taking legal action against their annual conference as they seek to leave United Methodism behind.

But these situations, too, unsettling though they may be, are secondary concerns. The congregations seeking to disaffiliate, despite the costs and the legal processes, have realized they have come to a crossroads and have looked around. The have recognized the foundational nature of the choice before them.

And they are no longer undecided about their desire or direction.

That same pointed entreaty from the Scriptures addresses each of us and our local churches:

This is what the Lord says:

“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.
(Jeremiah 6:16 NLT)

So, what is your reply? What is the reply of your local church?

For assistance, resources, and counsel for you and/or your local church in discerning the future, contact us as www.wcaofil.org

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REV. DR. SCOTT FIELD

REV. DR. SCOTT FIELD

NIC Clergy/Retired
Resource Networking Coordinator
Northern Illinois Wesleyan Covenant Association

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