Can United Methodists find what's missing?


By Rev. Glenn Martin
Guest Columnist

I called Von Unrah, the development editor of the Adult Bible Studies, to commend him for encouraging church school leadership to recycle used material to jails and prisons. Then I asked him to encourage our writers to write something inmates could relate to.

After attempting to teach this material for over two years, it becomes obvious that something is missing. The writers seem to take quick detours around certain texts and some subjects, some important texts and subjects.

The cross: At the heart of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is a cross, on which the Prince of Glory died; a cross that has become the theme of a thousand sacred songs. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. It is not the blood of goats and lambs, but the blood of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of every repentant sinner.

Charles Wesley wrote, "He breaks the power of canceled sin; He sets the prisoner free. His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood availed for me." That's the gospel that every class member and every convict needs to know. It is the gospel that convicts and converts.

Conversion/being born of the Spirit of God: Could a member of your class or an inmate using the material discover how to experience a new birth? Where are the scripture that define the promises and the process of becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus? Could and should our Sunday schools become a channel of evangelistic ministry? When have you heard someone say, "I was converted in a Methodist Sunday school class?"

Temptation: How do we contend with the persuasive power of lust and greed, of violence and profanity that permeate the electronics of this era of history? What is the armor of God and how do we put it on?  Is there an adversary of evil and how do we overcome him? How do we serve a holy God in an unholy world?

There is a passive assumption in much modern writing and preaching that we can just tell folks that the gospel is good news and God is love, and leave it there. We use the term "unconditional love" so much that an impression is given that nothing is required of us except to believe that he is love.

A preacher I knew latched on to Paul's emphasis on salvation by grace. He spent most of the rest of his life as an example of living without works. While God's unconditional love may be a legitimate phrase, God's great promises, which are an expression of that divine love are not un-conditional by any means.

His promise of the Promised Land to the descendants of Abraham was with many conditions (Deut. 8:11ff). Read II Chronicles 7:14. The salvation promised us is with our repentance and for "whosoever will." It is with definitive decision and commitment that we become new creations in Christ Jesus.

We may well discover that our very obvious decline in Methodism goes back to and parallels our diminished emphasis on much of the heart of the gospel. Ask your preacher to give a biblical message on the cross and on conversion and on overcoming temptation rather than following a lectionary that may give little or only seasonal focus to either. We Methodists need to find and add what's missing.

Martin is a retired clergy member of the Mississippi Conference who lives in Grenada. He is a regular contributor to the Advocate.