How Methodist Is Jesus

Boxes from which Jesus escaped

Jesus is a great Christ. In fact, he’s the best Christ.  However, I think he would be a horrible Methodist.  By today’s evangelical standards, Jesus wouldn’t be “church” leadership material. He’s a little squishy on the crucial theological issues of the day. Jesus doesn’t love the sinner and hate the sin. He loves unconditionally.  I’ve never seen Jesus forward a meme asking anyone to type “Amen”.  Truly, the man is not a distinction drawer. This would make some people uncomfortable.  People like his disciples.

Mark 9:38-41 illustrates how poorly Jesus would fit in with contemporary Methodists. The disciples have come to Jesus with a complaint. “We’ve seen others doing things in your name, people casting out demons. But here’s the thing, Jesus. We don’t know the guy. He doesn’t hang around with us. He seems to be someone who’s heard about you and is now off doing is own thing.” Speaking like keepers of the institutional flame, the disciples want to know why this man is doing Jesus-like things without going through an official board or a litmus test of theological orthodoxy.

Jesus’ answer gives him away. It tells me he wouldn’t be a “good” United Methodist. (Official Methodism has structures designed to limit people from operating outside the system.) Jesus says, “Don’t stop him.” Not only does Jesus want the disciples to refrain from hindering this man, he reminds them, “whoever isn’t against us is for us.” The apathetic masses, Jesus says, those millions who don’t go to church or do church differently are actually for us.

The disciples are wondering: How can those who are indifferent to us do any tangible good (for the kingdom) in the long run? People who aren’t against us may be for us, yet they don’t pay our apportionments. The disciples want to know how Jesus would report this at Charge Conference.  Jesus certainly isn’t a United Methodist.

No, Jesus doesn’t sound like a Christian, United Methodist, Evangelical, or anything else. He’s none of those things. Jesus is Jesus. He is the Christ. He will not fit into the boxes we’ve built.  Thank God. That’s the way it should be. Now, more than ever, we need to work with people who are different from us and realize the guy working in Jesus’ name who makes us uncomfortable IS Jesus.

Richard Lowell Bryant

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Increase Our Faith (and other stories from the Road) Luke 17

 

It is the second stage of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. Jesus tells the disciples of an easily ignored idea in scripture: forgiveness is endless, and causing someone else to sin is about as bad as it gets. Forgive those who’ve wronged you and repented into a seven-time seven multiple of infinite forgiveness; that’s a mind-blowing proposition. Consider the implications; we are to forgive others as God forgives us. (Lord’s Prayer, anyone?)

How can one not cause others to sin if we’ve decided (contrary to Jesus’ teaching) that grace and forgiveness will end with us? How is “sin” not the inevitable next step if you’re going to play God (at the micro-level) and decide whose repentance is worthy of acceptance? Causing others to sin is part and parcel of living in a world where we ration forgiveness and carry grudges from now until the time we die. Jesus’ point seems to be this: if you want a sin strategy, we need a forgiveness plan. Forgiveness takes on many names, “repair, restoration, healing,” and so on. However, you can’t spell forgiveness without love. I know there’s no “l.” I dare you though, to do it any other way.

Out of this critical conversation, the disciples pose a question only the disciples of Jesus Christ could ask, “Increase our faith!” It’s not even a question; it’s an imperative demand like a child having a tantrum. (The Greek is downright ugly.) You want Jesus to increase your faith? Does Jesus utter a secret “faith” phrase? How does one “increase” an abstract quality unique to any given individual? Have you thought this through?

Faith comes by lived experience with the resurrected Christ, not by someone waving a magic wand and turning us into more faithful Christians. Would that kind of Christianity even be fun?  (Remind me again how faith grew on the road to Emmaus? Was it by scripture study and breaking bread? Did Jesus push the secret faith button to make them believe?)

Faith is intensely personal. However, if our faith only grows from external sources, how committed are we? Once the music fads change, we lose the wristbands, and the fashionable Christian t-shirts no longer fit; where is our faith? Maybe we weren’t that faithful in the first place. We might have been religious. Were we faithful?

Our faith grows, over time. We don’t make imperative tantrums to demand Jesus give us our way. Instead, faith is lived and practiced every day in a relationship with Jesus. Faith is a together proposition. It always has been.

Faith needs forgiveness. Faithful people forgive people. If we want more faith, be more forgiving. Oh, but that’s hard. It involves loving our enemies, being uncomfortable, and living by the Beatitudes. As we see in Luke 17, we’d prefer to tell Jesus what we demand, stomp our feet, and wait on him to say the magic words. Let me know how that goes.

Richard Lowell Bryant