Right away, let me ask you to please forgive me for using the word “stupid” in the title to this post. My wife and I teach our kids never to use the word “stupid.” In this case I was just trying to be clever by using a phrase that was similar to one used in a presidential campaign not too long ago.
When I was appointed to my first church after seminary (back in June, 1992), I remember how popular the church growth movement was. I remember many of my United Methodist colleagues going to the latest and greatest conferences and seminars and buying the most current and “relevant” books that would solve all of our membership woes. And yet, what seemed so glaring to me, even then, was that everything seemed to revolve around “new and improved” programs and strategies. What I kept saying to myself was, “Don’t they understand that all these mega-churches they are seeking to imitate have core doctrines that they actually believe in and teach to their people.” (This was before Joel Osteen’s doctrine-free “success.”)
It seems that not very much has changed in the 20 years that I’ve been serving in the local church. My beloved UMC is still working through a “new and improved” paradigm or program every two years or so. It doesn’t seem to be working very well.
What’s so frustrating is that we have such wonderful, life-transforming core doctrines as well. (Parenthetically, I might also mention that John Wesley left us a wonderful legacy for “how” to preach the Word of God, do discipleship, etc.) However, it appears that our denomination often seems more enamored with fruit…while ignoring the root that provides it. We want inclusion, mercy to the last, least and the lost, everyone in service, etc., and yet it seems that we’re undermining the very means by which all of those things (and far more) will ever come to pass.
When I read about Scriptural Holiness, I read about inward transformation happening first before societal transformation can occur. Being must precede doing. Belief effects behavior. Confession, creed, and character shape our conduct. We ignore doctrine to our peril. Mack Stokes wrote,
“…for Wesley, scriptural holiness was seen as “inward holiness” produced by the supernatural pardoning and re-creating power of God through Christ, which impels us into “outward holiness.” The tree, being made good, bears good fruit.”
Doctrine really does matter. It shapes and forms who we are and helps us to understand whose we are. It’s with that foundation that we’re able to go out into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ and extend his Kingdom into every sphere of life. But we must first be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ (new creatures in Christ) who have truly had our hearts changed and who submit to his Lordship. If we aren’t, then all we will be are Pharisaical workers who will be destined to burnout and crash because, like a branch cut from the vine, there will be no life-giving nutrients and power running in and through us. If we would bear much, good, and lasting fruit, then we must abide in Christ and he must abide in us.
Grace and Truth,