March Tower-Chimes: Keeping the Right Perspective
Who among us doesn’t prefer stability over instability, predictability over unpredictability? By nature, most of of are wired to want things to be stable. This is why the precarious state of The United Methodist Church over the past few years has resulted in soaring levels of anxiety within the denomination. It would be difficult for any elderly life-long member of the UMC to point to a time in their life when denominational anxiety rivaled what it is today. The fact is, none of us life-long Methodists have ever experienced a denominational split before. Some of you can recall the 1968 merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. But none of were alive the last time the denomination endured a split.
A few years back, I heard a statement made which has become for me a kind of affirmation of faith. The statement is simply, “Nothing takes God by surprise.” Reminding myself of this truth whenever I’m feeling particularly apprehensive about the unknown always has the effect of lowering my dis-ease.
Nothing takes God by surprise. God never says, “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming!” or “Oops, maybe I should have anticipated that!” If you think about it, it’s kind of humorous (laughable, even ludicrous) to think of God being caught off-guard by our human doings. The implication of this truth is that even when we don’t know what’s going to happen, God’s already working on it. The fact is, God knows exactly how the split within the UMC is going to play out, and has been working behind the scenes for generations to bring it to its best possible outcome.
If you have access to the internet, I’d like you to take a few minutes to look at this family tree of the Methodist Church in America . Methodism in America began in 1784. It was a single denomination called The Methodist Episcopal Church (‘Episcopal’ indicated the use of bishops as part of its structure). It only took twelve years for the MEC to experience its first split. From there, it split and split and split and split. Throughout, there were a few reunitings, but most of the changes have been the result of different groups of people leaving the branch to form a new branch of Methodism, almost always out of the belief that the denomination of which they were a part no longer reflected the true spirit of John Wesley’s Methodist movement.
Not every split is regrettable. But neither is every split laudable. However, I’m not arguing the worth of each split within Methodism. Rather, I simply want to remind us that no split has ever occurred that caught God sleeping on the job, so to speak. In every single case, God was actively working things out to reach his ultimate, overarching purposes. And he’s doing so even today. God knows exactly what’s going on within our beloved United Methodist Church, which means that we don’t have to worry about it. God’s already working out solutions to the challenges we can anticipate. And he will reveal those solutions in due time.
At times it may feel like the sky is falling, but the truth is it’s not. God is still in ultimate control. We’re still in good hands. No, the best hands.