New: United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy

A new site from United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy. Here’s an excerpt from the site’s introductory post by Stephen Rankin.

Regarding doctrine, we are convinced that ignorance of our doctrine is endemic among United Methodists, not only about what United Methodists believe, but also how our doctrines fit within the so-called Great Tradition of Christian orthodoxy dating back to the earliest church. Methodists have been generous to a fault, wishing to draw the circle as wide as possible to include all people (or as many as possible). But this generosity has bred confusion and bondage, not clarity and freedom. We cannot be held together by denominational structures alone and we cannot talk about “shared mission” if we don’t have shared vision. That vision starts with some core theological commitments and some theological boundaries. The mission of UMSCO, therefore, is to take the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedonian statement regarding Christology as our givens, our starting points.

Anchoring in the Great Tradition of the church and the ancient creeds is a great place to start.

John the Baptist and the Parable of the Two Sons

Jesus’ parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-31 relates directly to Jesus’ conversation about John the Baptist, at least in the way that the author has structured the narrative in Matthew 21:23-32.

When the chief priests and elders asked Jesus an accusatory question about his authority, he answered with one of his own: did John the Baptist’s authority come from God or from human beings? The opponents refused to answer. If they said “from God” they would indict themselves. Why then did they not listen to him? If they said “from man,” they would lose the support of the crowds who believed John was a prophet.

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Supernatural Food and Drink

Last week’s Old Testament reading (Exodus 16:2-15) told the story of God feeding the people of Israel with manna after they crossed the Red Sea. This week’s reading (Exodus 17:1-7) recounts God’s subsequent provision of water from the rock. The apostle Paul saw the Christian sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper prefigured in these events.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:1-5)

“Prefigured” may be too weak a word. God delivered his people through the waters of the sea and then nourished them with spiritual food and drink in the wilderness. For Paul, the future messiah was present in these events. The rock from which Israel drank was Christ himself. Christ gave himself as spiritual nourishment to the Israelites in the desert and he gives himself to those who belong to him at the table.

But there is a “nevertheless” in Paul’s argument. He reminds his audience that all but two of the Israelites who crossed the sea and ate the manna and drank from the rock perished in the desert. God fulfilled his purposes and brought Israel into the land of promise, but countless individuals who had experienced his grace failed to inherit the land.

To put it bluntly, Paul is telling the Corinthians, “Just because you were baptized and take communion, you can still fail to inherit the kingdom of God.” And Paul makes this argument even though he had a “high” view of Christ’s presence in the sacraments.

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And for All Who

I’ve adopted a practice commended to me a few years ago by Gary L. Whetstone, my district superintendent. When I pray for myself or for others, I often add the phrase “and for all who …” to my prayer, enlarging the circle of my concern to all who are similarly situated.

Whetstone learned the practice from John Brantley, a pastor in my conference, who in turn says that he learned it from his physician. In his message to his preachers, Whetstone quoted Brantley:

My physician taught me to add a phrase to all my prayers for myself. If I am praying for my healing from the flu, she would suggest I add, ‘and heal all those who suffer from the flu today.’ This simple exercise takes my prayers and carries them around the world. . .

Whetstone continued:

How cool is that! Now when I have to preach, I’m praying for all of you who have to preach. When I pray over that paperwork, I’ll pray it will breeze by for you. And, when I pray weighted by a heavy decision, I will remember you in my prayers.

As the practice has been commended to me, I commend it to you.

Worship is Prayer

When does prayer occur during Christian worship? In my view, the entire worship service is prayer offered to God.

There are obviously one or more “prayers” (plural) that take place during a worship service – an invocation, perhaps, or a pastoral prayer – but the congregation’s praying is not confined to segments that begin with the name of God and end with “Amen.”

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A Prayer for the Army

Eternal God,

We pray for our* army, its soldiers and civilian employees, and for all who are part of the army family. Strengthen the ties that bind us together as one, and pour out your blessing on every individual. Keep every family and every friendship whole and healthy. Guard us from all harm. Lift up the broken-hearted, and relieve those who are suffering.

Guide and protect our brothers and sisters deployed throughout the world. Lead our nation always to employ us wisely and honorably. Give us the wisdom, courage and strength of spirit to accomplish every mission entrusted to us by our nation. And let our labors always contribute to the cause us of peace.

Keep alive in us all those virtues of character that produce happiness for ourselves, peace in our families and righteousness in our community. Amen.

* Offered for the members of the army in which the author serves as a uniformed member.

A Prayer for the Nation and the World

Almighty God, king of all nations, we pray to you today for our country and for all the people of the earth.

Bring peace to your world, O Lord, and establish your justice among the nations. Defeat the powers of death and destruction that rage throughout the world. Deliver the innocent from their enemies. Protect your creation from harm.

We give thanks for our country and for all that is good in our society. Bring joy to our land, we pray, and happiness into every home. Where we have gone astray, correct our faults and set us on the right path. Give us the means to provide for our all our families and to afford our children a better future. Build up our communities as places of well-being for everyone, and give us a love for each other that reflects the love you have for us.

We seek these blessings for our nation, and for all the people of the world. Amen.