Seventy-two years ago, I was baptized in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Mt. Holly New Jersey. Although you could call me a cradle Methodist, my family were not church goers and I didn’t attend church until a teenager. My next door neighbor a Presbyterian Sunday School teacher invested in the life of this 8th grader, which led to my going through confirmation class and eventually to a conversion at a Billy Graham crusade in Philadelphia in 1962.
This led to my involvement in a number of fundamentalist churches during my adolescent and young adult years. I even enrolled in a fundamental academy and later in the same institution’s University, but even though I learned a lot about Jesus and the Bible and even felt a call to full time Christian service, I never felt at home in that environment. In 1972, while working in a non-denominational youth ministry in South Texas, I was embraced by a local Methodist Church filled with Wesleyan love and grace. I knew almost immediately that the prodigal son had found his way home. From there in 1976, I enrolled in seminary, which led to my graduation and ordination in the United Methodist Church. It was during those seminary years at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary that the school’s President Dr. Harold Ockenga and my seminary professor and mentor Stephen Mott provided for me a vision to help bring renewal to mainline denominations and specifically in my case my beloved Methodist Church. My denomination had increasingly embraced a more liberal social gospel that had abandoned John Wesley’s emphasis on scriptural Holiness.
For the past 40 years, this vision motivated me in my work in local churches and in my Arkansas Annual Conference. I found for the most part laity in the churches I served as receptive to the vision and for most of these years I found a receptivity within our conference. However, as the debate over human sexuality has become more vitriolic and divisive, the atmosphere in the General church and even in my conference has led to a polarization that deflated my optimism in that vision of institutional renewal. I have come to see how much bigger issues were at stake with how the Bible is read and understood and appropriated. I have come to the conviction that there is a profound brokenness that can only be healed through some form of division and separation. This is a painful realization for me and many others on all sides of this issue. I have dear friends and colleagues who are more liberal than I, have come to the same conclusion.
In the midst of my sadness and disappointment, I have come to realize that it is often through our brokenness in the loss of our hopes and dreams, that God brings new life. Years ago, I heard a quote from Vance Havner that speaks to this reality. “God uses broken things, it takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to produce bread, broken bread to give strength. It is Peter weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.” This was true in the day of Methodist founder John Wesley, who God used to bring a great awakening on two continents, out of the brokenness in the Church of England. Paul reminds us in II Corinthians 4:7 that God brings treasure out of “cracked Pots” to demonstrate this all surpassing power is from God and not us.
I have no idea how this conflict within my beloved United Methodist Church will resolve itself, but I do know that if we keep planting tiny seeds of grace and truth in our churches, communities and in our world, God will bring new life and advance his kingdom. Remember, “In a tiny seed lies the potential of a forest.” Keep planting seed my friends.