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The next move is ours. . .
Falling in love with Jesus again is the key which will unlock the door to genuine renewal.

by James Gibson

APRIL 19, 2001--As I write these words, "evangelical" United Methodists from across the nation are gathering in Houston, Texas for another "Conference on the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church." This is the fifth such gathering since the Movement began in 1995. I have been in attendance at three of the previous four meetings. But, in the words of that great theologian Jed Clampett, "I think Iíll pass on this one."

The battle for the soul of United Methodism has degenerated into a fight between a rat and a snake. Liberals and their pet cause, "homosexual rights," took a severe beating at General Conference in Cleveland last year. They have been exposed as a paper tiger with far less support and influence than they pretend to have. What most keen observers have said all along has proven to be true: the sons and daughters of Sodom are nothing more than a small band of overgrown, spoiled rotten adolescent troublemakers whose day in the sun is rapidly fading. It is doubtful they will have any presence at all at the next General Conference and, even if they do, their defeat will be even more brutally crushing than before.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, seem overly congratulatory among themselves for having "accomplished" so much at General Conference. A year removed from Cleveland, however, the rank and file still look for signs of a renewal which is not happening. Evangelical leaders continue to press for "accountability" and "enforcement of the Discipline." They speak of love, mercy and grace with all the passion of a highway patrol officer who has just pulled over the pope for speeding.

When we conservative United Methodists first came together a generation ago to embark upon our noble enterprise, we assumed that everyone within our ranks was like-minded in just about everything. What we have discovered of late, however, is that "we" are a hodge-podge of Anglo-Catholic traditionalists, fundamentalists, evangelicals, creedalists, charismatics, covenentalists, dispensationalists and a relatively large faction who don't quite know what they believe.

We have but two things in common: 1) We love Jesus Christ and 2) We can't stand what the liberals are doing to his Church. It is apparent that our focus has degenerated more toward the latter than the former. As a result, our carnal efforts are, like those of the liberal camp, being exposed as a miserable failure. This is due in part because our own differences are being brought to light but, moreso, because we can only get so far by uniting against a common enemy rather than uniting around our common Lord and Savior.

Since its inception, the Confessing Movement has been committed to one lofty concept: "doctrinal reinvigoration." It has been our rallying cry. We have shouted it from the mountaintops. However, if we could come down from that mountain for just a moment, we would be embarrassed to realize what an oxymoron this phrase is.

We must ask ourselves this question, and ponder it quite seriously: Is doctrinal reinvigoration the key to renewal. . . or. . . is renewal the key to doctrinal reinvigoration?

Mainstream evangelicals of all denominational stripes are beginning to realize the grave mistake they made in ceding (not altogether voluntarily) to the fundamentalist faction the task of drawing up the boundaries within which "orthodoxy" is defined. The result has been nothing short of disastrous. Much of what is now considered "evangelical orthodoxy" is, at best, heterodox and, at worst, outright heretical. Not surprisingly, since it appeals to the "rugged individualism" of American Christianity, Pelagianism is the most pervasive evangelical error. But there are also numerous strands of Gnosticism, Sabellianism, Montanism and millennialism which go unchallenged within the evangelical community.

Evangelicals, of all people, must carefully observe Paulís caveat to Timothy, "Watch your life and doctrine closely" (1 Timothy 4:16). A stale "orthodoxy" will not bring new life to this dead carcass we call a denomination. Neither will a dead denomination be capable of "reinvigorating" its already corrupted "doctrine." Simply put, we have been working in reverse. "Doctrinal reinvigoration" will not bring about renewal. On the contrary, renewal will bring about "doctrinal reinvigoration."

What, then, is the key to renewal?

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:19-20)

As I have stated in a previous article, renewal is not going to come as a result of anything "we" have done over the last 35-40 years. If our endeavors over that period have served any purpose at all, it has been to demonstrate the utter futility of fighting a spiritual battle with the carnal weapons of political strategies, resolutions, declarations and legislation. God does permit us to make every mistake imaginable in order to break us of that persistent habit of taking matters into our own hands. But the era of strategizing and politicizing is coming to an end. A new day is dawning. Jesus is knocking at the door that we have shut in his face. He longs to come back in and pour out his love again upon the people he died for. He yearns for us to embrace the reality of his presence among us. He comes to bring that renewal we have longed for. But he makes it clear that he, and he alone, will be in charge of the whole operation.

The key to unlocking the door upon which Jesus knocks is quite simple, but most profound. Ben Sharpe, preaching at our churchís revival a few weeks ago, stated it perfectly: We need to fall in love with Jesus all over again!

If we genuinely want to unlock the door to renewal, we need only take that one simple step. But are we prepared for the profound consequences that will come when we open that door? When we let Jesus in, his presence will be so overwhelming that all our previous expectations of what renewal should be, what the church should look like, even some of our long-cherished doctrinal presuppositions, will melt away under the radiant light of his glory. He must increase, and we must decrease.

There will be more of his Spirit, and less of our flesh.

There will be more of his holiness, and less of our unholiness.

There will be more of his grace, and less of our works.

There will be more of his strength, and less of our weakness.

There will be more of his love, and less of our indifference.

There will be more of his glory, and less of our shame.

There will be more of his life, and less of our death.

There will be more of him, and less of us.

Of course, even a locked door is no obstacle to the Risen Christ. But the desire of his heart is for those he loves to freely choose to love him.

Jesus stands at the door and knocks. He who loves us and gave his life that we might live longs to come in and eat with us. The next move is ours.

It is time to fall in love with Jesus, all over again!

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, he is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be his footstool, and the soul of wrong his slave.
Our God is marching on.


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