In those days and in that time, declares the Lord, the people of Israel and the people of Judah shall come together, weeping as they come, and they shall seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, saying, ‘Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten.’ “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold. All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, ‘We are not guilty, for they have sinned against the Lord, their habitation of righteousness, the Lord, the hope of their fathers.’ - Jeremiah 50:4-7
While catching up on the daily Scripture readings, the passage above caught my attention. Often, I think, when we read the Bible, various passages seem to jump off the page, almost as if to say, “I am talking to you!” When I read these verses from Jeremiah, however, I thought of the recent meeting I attended. The ongoing division inside the UMC, the conflict of belief, have slowly and insidiously eaten away at our denomination. A great many prefer to ignore this, but the numbers are telling. The decline in membership and involvement in the United Methodist Church is staggering. The denomination in America is about half the size it was when I entered seminary.
My interest here is not so much in the formation of the new denomination, the Global Methodist Church, which I wholly support, but in the laity who sit in the pews wondering what is going on in our world and how we are supposed to live. I heard some powerful speakers and some faithful plans for the Wesleyan directive of “spreading scriptural holiness” across the land. I can think of nothing more desirable than that for any church.
Yet, I also admit to some trepidation. How exactly do we intend spread scriptural holiness? Who is doing the defining of the holiness? What are the laity in the pews supposed to be doing now? The blessing of our Scriptures is that they are so vast, and one can find so much there. Yet, we can also say that the problem of our Scriptures is that they are so vast, and one can find so much there… What step do we take today? How is the average, sincere Christian in the pew to live out the idea of the scriptural holiness? This is not the eighteenth century; it’s the twenty-first century. Do we even know what scriptural holiness looks like in this day and age?
I think, for most of us, the answer is no. Not intentionally, not faithlessly, but still, most of us have no idea what scriptural holiness is, nor do we have any idea how to go about achieving it. Some of the cause of this is related to the passage above, “Their shepherds led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold. All who found them have devoured them.”
If you have sat in any class I’ve taught or read any book I’ve written, then you know I think most clergy education has the unfortunate effect of de-formation of the Christian mind. Instead of being formed in the likeness of Christ and immersed in the Gospel – in worship, prayer, and study, too many aspiring members of the clergy learn the opposite – how to think like the intellectuals of the world and squeeze Jesus into those molds. Therefore, it should be no surprise to us when the Gospel of Jesus Christ closely resembles the good news of American success.
Only now… all that American success seems to be brittle and cracking, opening a fissure that may well swallow our possibilities and our freedom in it. Like sheep led astray, we find ourselves standing around looking at one another and wondering what will happen next. I propose that this is precisely what we ought not to be doing. Now is a good time to recognize that we are the ones who hold the only possible solution to the insanity of our culture, even if we are not terribly sure what that solution is.
As Christians, we have been committed to the Bible and to biblical teaching. We’ve been content with a little Jesus because life has been good to us. But now, with the world around us changing faster than we can keep up, the time has come that we need more. We need to experience Christ more fully in our lives; we need to know Him more deeply in hearts and minds, and we need His Spirit deeply embedded in our souls. The cultural push, from education to federal laws, is not the marginalization of Christianity, but the eradication of Christian faith. In this environment, we are called to stand firm in the truth and be living exhibitions of Jesus’ extravagant love and compassion. To have any hope of doing so, we must abide in our Lord and walk in His footsteps daily. That is the “holiness” that follows “scriptural” in the Wesleyan call. Let us consider, from the few verses above, the steps we can take today to be re-formed with the mind of Christ.
Look again at what the passage says. The Lord declared that His people should come together. Odd that I should mention coming together while endorsing division. The division I endorse is the one that already exists in terms of belief – interpretation of the Scriptures and doctrine (formation of the mind) – because what a person believes determines what a person does. Some sections of Methodism believe we have advanced beyond the Bible’s teachings, that we know more now, and we should not teach things that do not apply in our current generation. Others believe the Bible does apply, regardless of the generation or cultural environment. Frankly, I think we all fall in the first group, the primary difference being the degree to which we doubt biblical teaching applies.
So, the call to us is not simply to separate and quit the infighting. The call is to take seriously the Gospel of Jesus Christ as plainly revealed in the Bible and to do so with the knowledge that we can no longer see the world as the world sees itself. Though the Scriptures make this clear, the ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil continues all around us – in our lives, in the lives of those we love, and across the world. Certainly, the evil one has lost the war, but his intention is to destroy as many souls as he can before the Lord returns at the end of the age. Here we are in the middle of a spiritual battle we were trying to ignore, and we find ourselves without the necessary weapons because we trusted that we were too knowledgeable to need them.
But look at what we trusted: our national political structure, our economic policies and success, our control over our own lives, our universities and educational system, our scientists and medical advancements, and on and on. These are what Jeremiah called ‘those who found us and devoured us.’ These are worldly structures in which we placed our trust, only to find ourselves pushed from mountain to hill. We can talk about these cultural behemoths and examine the ways in which they have insidiously devoured our trust in the Lord. For now, however, we need to know what to do today. Begin by gathering with those who seek the Lord as you do.
As a people, we have been wandering in a barren land and calling it “home.” Our land has only the shadows of our Father’s Kingdom, but we call it real. Evil abounds around us, and we close our eyes rather than see what is before our face. When we gather, this, then, is the first step toward scriptural holiness, that of longing for God, seeking the Face of God in Jesus Christ. The second step given to us is weeping. Do you want the Lord badly enough to cry for Him? I think of the tears I’ve shed over the death of my friend. Do I cry that much because I am separated from my Lord? Do you ever cry over the distance between the Lord and yourself?
Any separation from Jesus comes from own rebellion against Him, intentionally or not. As a church, we are steeped in the ideas of our culture, and those ideas, now completely separated from Christian faith, are revealing themselves to be pathways to death – death of truth, death of joy, death of hope, of goodness, of meaning and purpose, until finally, death of body. Thus, we weep in sorrow because we have wandered off, looking for salvation in places where it cannot be found.
Contrary to the assumptions pervading our culture, which cannot see beyond itself, I am absolutely convinced that there are more important things than life and death, the standard measure for how we make every decision. I know it is better to live a short life in Christ than a long life without Him. Among other more important matters are truth, virtue, faith, hope, and love. These are eternal, while physical death is inevitable, and life is, at best, a fleeting blip in the span of time.
So, we come together with those who seek the Lord, and we come weeping and mourning because we are lost. How are we to find Zion? What is the way, and how do we join ourselves to the everlasting covenant? When we seek the Lord in sorrowful repentance for the ways in which we diluted His salvation with worldly values and pleasures, the way to return to Him and join the everlasting covenant between God and His people is this: we need to study the Scriptures; to live lives of prayer dwelling in the Spirit of God given to us; to fast regularly until we realize a hunger for the Lord greater than our hunger for the world; to give of ourselves to others for their blessing and for God’s glory; to think more highly of others needs than our own, and though almost completely forgotten, we need to connect to the earth around us. Why? Because our God created it, and in connecting with creation, we rediscover the simplicity of life fully dependent upon God.
These are the steps we can take today, steps to separate our thinking from the world around us and raise our minds to contemplate the wonders and wisdom of our God. But these steps are baby steps! If we do all of this, we will have only touched upon the vast riches of the Kingdom of God. These steps merely open us to the reality that stretches far beyond what we can see, much more than we can imagine. Still, let us take these baby steps, because we cannot be light to the world until the light of life shines from within us.
Scriptural holiness is a matter of being set apart for growth in virtue, in obedience, and in life – in Christ’s life. Here is the good news… Everything we need to face each day is waiting for us in the arms of our Savior. Everything we need. Times are likely to get worse before they get better. I have no idea where our society is headed, but I do know where Christ leads us. Our Father wants to share the riches of His Kingdom with us. All that He has is ours for the asking, if we ask in Jesus’ name. That should be our focus, and that alone. If Christ is leading us, the impact on our culture is His to determine, not yours or mine. We do not decide how to fix the nation. We do not begin to know how! We only decide whether to abide in Christ or not. That’s it. That is the only choice we need to make.
Baby steps. Repent. Seek others who do the same. Study Scripture. Mourn sin. Fast. Pray. Give. Work. This is the pathway of scriptural holiness. This is the rock on which to build your home. This is a victor’s life, our first participation in the victory of our Lord and our anticipation of uniting ourselves to Him for eternity.
You and I have no idea what He might do if we turn back to Him and take our baby steps in obedience. Christ alone knows what He can do with just a few who toddle along faithfully and obediently in this generation.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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