Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Collision of Theology and Ideology

One of the great joys I have in my journey with God is to be a part of this things called the United Methodist Church. While there are others out there who see it as the most troubling of denominations, thanks Tony Jones, I find the amazing complexity and diversity that can gather under the banner of United Methodist. It is true this complex diversity comes with some challenges and some downright ugly times in the life of the church. Reality check, whenever human beings are entangled with the works of a Holy God, things are going to get messy.

Nonetheless, here I find myself in a denomination where many are focused on making sure the way they see God will be the dominate view.This has caused me to wonder if the tension at hand is about theology as has been put forward, or if it has more to do with ideology. At first blush contrasting the two might seem like an exercise in splitting hairs. There is much in common between the two, however I think there is a vast difference.

Over the past few years I have decided to go from being vocal about any of the positions available to spending more time listening to all. Through this process I have found some things that might be helpful to highlight. The following are the common points I have heard from many in the conversations:

  • God of love. No matter what angle is being taken to which discussion point I have heard people talking about how loving God is. Further I hear in the conversation that God has unending love for humanity.
  • God of grace. Through it all I hear folks not only taking about the grace of God but they are excited about the access we as humanity we have to the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Like with the love of God, I find across the board the grace of God is available to all humanity.
  • Celebration of community. Another common thread to in the conversation is the importance of the community of God, the church. In the complex diversity I have not found voices ready to abandon the community, rather voices longing for the community to be whole.
  • Justice. In all the listening I have yet to find a voice claiming God's support of injustice. It seems apparent to those I have listened to the Scriptures call for the people of God to be Holy and walking in justice.
  • Christ Centered. The pursuit of a Christlike life is what I have heard in all the narratives as I have slowed down enough to listen. There is an earnest effort underway to embody the way of Jesus by all. 
There were other common points, however these were the ones that were the most prevalent. It is important to get clear each of these common points were carried out differently by different people. Yet at the heart of the different actions there is a common quest at the center. This difference in action and core is the place where theology and ideology meet. Contrary to what I have heard many suggest there is actually a very small theological difference in this glorious mystery called the United Methodist Church. There is however, a significant difference in ideology. This is not new to the Church, not just the UMC. Since the day Christ empowered humanity to carry out the community of God, there has been a clash of ideology. Whether it was when Peter had the vision in Acts 10, or the debate about circumcision in Acts 15. We find over and over in the Scriptures people who remain focused on God, and the ways God is at work in the lives of humanity, yet they embody this in different ways. Still here in 2012 there is a prevailing thought in the UMC that we need to all think, act and believe exactly the same way. As I am fond of telling my congregation, when a group of people think, act and believe exactly the same claiming God at the center and on their side it is called a cult not the church of Jesus Christ. Even the people Jesus called around him during his earthly pilgrimage were very different people. Jesus called together a vast diversity that thought differently, acted differently and even believed differently. Yet at the center was not getting one ideology to win over the others, it was the pursuit of embodying the community of God here on earth as we ready for the return of Christ setting all things are God designed. 

So church, UMC and others, the time for repentance has come. For far too long we have chased ideology more than we have chased God. For far too long we have tried to get the rest of the world to see things the way we see them instead of seeking the face of God above all other things. Many of  the things that divide us   are things that are not of the highest level of importance. Is there injustice in the world, you bet, just remember yours is not the only way to address it. Is the Church of Jesus Christ broken, absolutely, again remember there is more than one way to get us back to focusing on Jesus. Anytime we think our way is the only way of following God we have lost sight of our theology and settled for ideology. May we be a people who focus more on God and the ways God is in relationship with all creation, than on how we think this ought to look.

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