Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Open Minds...

The Gospel passage for this upcoming Sunday is Luke 24:36-48. What strikes me as I ponder this passage this morning is verse 45, "...he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Powerful words, but easy to skim over.

We hear a lot in the Church today about "inclusiveness", particularly in The United Methodist Church, in which I am humbled to serve. Inclusiveness can mean many different things; Webster's Dictionary says that it may mean "broad in orientation or scope" or "covering or intended to cover all items, costs, or services" or, interestingly, "comprehending stated limits or extremes, such as from Monday to Friday inclusive".

Inclusiveness has been determined by the Church to be so crucial that it has even been written into the Constitition of our denomination, specifically Article 4: Inclusiveness of the Church, which states:

The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking the vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection. In The United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition.

This Article is currently held up by our Council of Bishops as evidence that our Judicial Council erred in a recent decision, which affirmed a pastor's authority to confirm or deny church membership in light of the candidate's sincere penitence.

Inclusiveness is important, to be sure. As Jesus endeavored to include as many people as possible in the call to the Kingdom, so must we. There should be no barriers as we reach out to a broken world...all people should be our mission-field. We also need to practice inclusiveness by deliberately seeking ways to include women, minorities, the disabled, and any other marginalized groups in the life and government of the Church, as much as is possible without rejecting complete feasibility or sacrificing our covenantal understanding of the Christian Faith. I believe in the idea of inclusiveness.

But "inclusiveness", like so many other fine concepts, is quite modern, and really doesn't appear in the least not "in the open". Theologians and scholars have really had to dig to find support for the idea in Scripture. I'm glad for their work, and I praise God for it.

In recent years, my denomination has engaged in a massive (and relatively successful) advertising campaign known as Igniting Ministry. In fact, two folks related to my Conference have been national leaders of the campaign (Conference Steward Rev. Larry Homitsky and Bishop Thomas Bickerton). The slogan "Open Hearts...Open Minds...Open Doors" has become a mantra of sorts for many in The United Methodist Church.

Now, I have been troubled by some who seem to elevate this advertising slogan to the level of official doctrine, as some have seemed to do in relation to the recent Judicial Council decision. It's a fine slogan, but it carries NO weight whatever in determining Church law or ministry direction. It's a slogan for commercials, and, at best an ideal. It's a vision. It's also so broad that it can mean almost anything, or nothing at all. Leadership means more than finding the lowest common denominator; it means standing on correct principles, which is, I'm sure, the intent of the slogan, regardless of how it's been interpreted.

Luke 24:45 teaches us a little about inclusiveness, or at least a little about "Open Hearts...Open Minds...Open Doors". In this fascinating Resurrection appearance by our Lord Jesus Christ, he actually does open the minds of the disciples. Note, however, that their minds are not simply opened in any generic sense, but rather they are opened " they could understand the Scriptures."

In other words, Jesus wants us to have open minds...for a reason. The reason is, at least according to this passage, that we might delve into God's word, discovering more about our Lord, ourselves, our story, our world, and our mission. Having an open mind to what the Spirit has for us in the Bible is a wonderful Christian practice, is rarely what we expect, and surely a faithful interpretation of "Open Hearts...Open Minds...Open Doors" .


Brett Probert said...

So are you fer or agin the decision?

Keith H. McIlwain said...

I'm with the Judicial Council.

Jeff V said...

How do you determine who can join the church and who can't? Do you let people who live together join the church? Do you require a class for people to join? If so, and someone doesn't desire to take the class, should you be brought up on charges for requiring the class? If an Amtrak train leaves Chicago at 3:35 pm, and another one leaves New York at 4:17, which one will dereail first?

Brett Probert said...

Jeff, ask me. I will tell you who should join and who shouldn't. I know these things.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

The Judicial Council has rule that it's the pastor's decision. The truth is that our membership vows include a renunciation of sin and a vow to turn from sin. Do we expect people to lie by taking those vows?

I don't think we should single out homosexuals...we've done that far too often and that doesn't please God.

But we should also expect folks to be sincere when they take those vows...regardless of their sexual behavior.

John said...

Amen, Keith. The vows of membership are more than just empty words. And Methodism is more than just a social club.