Reaching Those Who are Far From Christ

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The MethoBlogosphere is buzzing with reflections on the departure of the Grace Point United Methodist Church leadership, and presumably all or most of the congregation with them. The Rev. Butts and the leadership team have started a new congregation called Grace Point Community Church, which began their first worship service apart from the denomination on Sunday, March 8th. The Wichita Eagle has a news article that summarizes the situation nicely for those who have not heard about it.

It is hard to read between the lines in these types of situations, but everything in print and online has tried to indicate that this was not so much of a theological break with the UMC as it was a managerial one. Rev. Butts and the Grace Point team wanted to implement a multi-site approach to ministry and the UM connection doesn’t seem to have moved fast enough in approving it. It also appears that the decision to leave the UMC was made without consultation with Bishop Scott Jones:

“We would have liked to have some opportunity to discuss this in advance to see if the issue could have been resolved in a different way,” Jones said. “While we knew there was some disagreement about the church’s desire to expand faster than we were able to support, we were unaware of Rev. Bryson Butts’ decision to leave the United Methodist Church.”

Bryson Butts explains some of his rationale for leaving on his blog here. He resigned from the UMC, turned over his credentials, and moved on to form a non-denominational church that has a singular focus: “reaching those who are far from Christ.” Here is a blog excerpt from Rev. Butts:

What interests me about this congregation’s exit is not that another new church start has decided to go independent. Our conference has a few examples of this phenomenon as well. What I find fascinating is the content and subject matter of the conversations and blog posts that have followed – both of those who left and of those who remain.

I mentioned above that many have posted on this topic already, and several have emphasized that the problem was 1) managerial style, not theology, or 2) yet another example of a dying institution not keeping pace with new leaders and new ways of doing ministry, or 3) perhaps pastoral arrogance or presumption (more in post comments then actual posts on the subject).

It is hard for me to understand how pragmatics, managerial style, or other considerations seem to be so easily separated away from what Methodists consider “theological.” In discussion around the Grace Point departure, this can only be true if what we mean by theology truly lacks any notion of ecclesilogy.

Perhaps anther nagging question I want to ask is, why does “reaching those who are far from Christ” always seem to mean that we must do so “far from the church.” Please understand, I am not suggesting here that the UMC is synonymous with the church universal, but I am concerned enough about church unity and Jesus’ high preistly prayer for oneness, that I don’t want to just sit in the bleachers and cheer for both sides of a church split as if evangelism and unity have nothing to do with each other (which would mean I really MUST ignore the way Jesus connected them in his prayer to the Father: “that they be one” with its missional purpose “that the world may believe”). What Jesus has joined together, let contemporary evangelism strategies put asunder.

Perhaps it is now true that United Methodists, often touted as having a weak or non-existent ecclesilogy historically speaking, can now claim doctrinally in our confessions what we shout from the mountain-tops in our noncommon-life. I recommend a little tweaking to the third portion of the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in the Holy Spirit
a wholly privatized and individually appropriated
understanding of the Christian faith and life,
the communion of the saints
(as long as they are invisible, not prayed for or to, and make no claims on me or others around me)
the forgiveness of sins
(between me and Jesus and as interpreted apart from John 20:23)
the resurrection of my body (“the” sounds too coporate)
and my life ever lasting.

2 comments

  1. >You have correctly identified the central issue: the separation of ecclesiology from soteriology. When one reaches those for Christ, one must ask which Christ? The Christ of consumerism? Or the Christ whose body is the church? One cannot tamper with ecclesiology and then assume that it is still the same christology being presented and embodied. If one approaches the church as a bargain shopper approaches wal-mart, one gets a different Christ than if one approaches the church as the body of Christ (one holy catholic and apostolic). Yoder once said something to the effect (this is not an exact quote) the church is not simply the bearer of the message, it is the message about a renewed humanity. Or as Marshall McLuhan used to say, the medium is the message.

  2. >This all may be an extension of our trend towards operating as “independently owned and operated” versions of the UMC franchise. The more disconnected we operate, the easier it is to feel that God would call us to separate. I too am troubled when the life of the Church causes such a public spectacle of hurt, division and accusations- it does not help in the cause of living out the Gospel, and certainly does not build one another up in the living unity of Christ.

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